Back when I lived in Niigata, before I’d met She Who Must Be Obeyed, I was invited to a parent teacher party with the Parent Teachers Association of Isobe Junior High School, which was my smallest school. I was sitting next to the school’s cute secretary, whose name I don’t remember and whose interest in me ranked somewhere between “I’d rather have a root canal on all my teeth without anesthetic” and “I’d rather be set on fire”. She was polite, though, as I struggled through what little Japanese I knew. It is difficult, even if a woman’s interested, to impress her when you’re basically babbling like a child. (This is something I really wished I’d learned in high school and definitely before I got to graduate school.)
Japanese parties, called enkai, are heavily formalized and pretty much all the same, but that’s another post. The food is also usually the same. In this case, we had a tasty deep-fried fish that had been cooked long enough you could eat the bones. I devoured everything and set the heads on the plate (yes, almost all fish in Japan is served with heads; some is even still moving). About halfway through the meal (which, by definition is the party’s one hour mark) the cute secretary whose name I don’t remember pointed to my plate and said “don’t you like to eat the fish heads?” to which I replied, more or less, “um, am I supposed to like them?” I then found a rare moment of situational awareness and realized that mine was the only plate with heads staring forlornly at me. Being a male attempting to impress a female, I quickly at the fish heads, eyes and all. It was actually pretty tasty but she was unimpressed.
All this is a long introduction to the some of the odd differences between the way Japanese eat things and the way I do. I’ve mentioned before how She Who Must Be Obeyed thinks it so strange that I like raw broccoli and raw cauliflower that she can’t actually bring herself to leave it raw. However, I also remember one time, after I’d met She Who Must Be Obeyed, when we were eating somewhere with my adult class and someone started handing out grapes. I immediately attacked the grapes and made short work of them. However, every single other person in the room was peeling their grapes before eating them and they thought it strange that I would eat the skins. I, of course, was worried that I’d somehow poisoned myself, but nothing bad happened.
I thought , at first, it was because they were large grapes, but every Japanese I know will also peel small grapes. Since I’m already finished by the time they finish their first grape, there’s not much else for me to do but watch. They also carefully peel baked potatoes and apples which I find an unnecessary step for eating either.
Interestingly, the one food the Japanese don’t peel is eggplant. This time every year, Mother and Father of She Who Must Be Obeyed send us lots of round eggplant. It quickly gets sliced up and pan fried and dipped in soy sauce and ginger. It gets stuffed with ground pork and deep fried. It gets served in soup. It gets served with meat sauce and pasta. It gets pickled. It never, however, gets peeled. (It also rarely gets salted and sweated.) This shocked me the first time because I still remember the care my friend Steve put into peeling an eggplant before making moussaka many hundreds of years ago.
Now I realize, he may have been wasting his time.