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A Taste of Japan January 27, 2013

Posted by nrhatch in Food & Drink, Humor, Travel & Leisure.


We went to a travel lecture on Japan yesterday at the Island Library.

Paul Stonebridge, an avid world traveler who enjoys tasting “mystery meat” in market stalls on six continents and once ate a cat-sized rat in Romania, brought Japanese snacks for us to sample.  Most looked edible, if not enticing.

I spotted two suspect offerings at the far end of the table.  The gelatinous and unappealing appearance of both did nothing to spark my appetite.


A Taste of Japan

* First up, fruits . . . lychee, jackfruit, lotus root, kumquat, preserved plums, winter melon, candied melon, watermelon seeds.  None wowed the crowd.

They lacked the juiciness of a ripe peach, the sweetness of fresh pineapple, the bite of a crisp apple, the creaminess of banana, the burst of goodness from a fistful of grapes.


Lotus root (left), Jackfruit (right)


Lychee (left), candied kumquats (right)


Candied melon (left), baby eggplant (right)

* Paul brought two flavors of “Shocking Popping Candy” ~ cola and green apple.  Like Pop Rocks, the candy fizzed and sputtered a bit before melting away.  But despite its effervescent nature, it didn’t wake up my taste buds.

Neither did the sweet rice cakes which came close to being tasteless.


“Pop Rocks” (left), Sweet Rice Cakes (right)

* We sampled tasteless “Jello Shots” made with agar (seaweed) instead of gelatin.  Sweetened with lychee, the four shelf-stable colors tasted identical with no discernible flavor coming through.

The preserved plums looked promising.  My anticipation grew as I removed the outer wrapper to reveal . . . another wrapper.  I removed the inner wrapper to reveal . . . another wrapper.  When I finally reached the center, a small gooey glob of fruit presented itself.

The taste?  Not as sweet as dates or as lively as figs; decidedly . . . prunish.

Left to Right: Rice cakes, Jello shooters, Preserved Plums

* Next up . . . salty crunchy snacks.  The wasabi seaweed crackers lacked the sharp horseradish bite expected from anyone who has tried wasabi coated dried peas.  Not an unpleasant snack, but definitely not addictive.

Same goes for the shrimp and the fishy crackers.  In the bowl, they looked like snacks we might serve on Super Bowl Sunday.  On the tongue, they tasted fishy.


Clockwise from top left: Wasabi Seaweed Crackers, Fishy crackers, Winter Melon, Shrimp Crackers

* Last up . . . dark chocolate straws.  Although promising in appearance, these dipped wafers didn’t provide the sensory satisfaction sought from chocolate.


Chocolate dipped wafers, Wasabi Seaweed crackers, Shrimp crackers

* We left the suspect offerings ~ eel and jellyfish ~ stewing in their gelatinous juices for others to try.

What?  Would YOU have given them a go?  No.  I didn’t think so.


Eels (left), Jellyfish (right)

After the lecture, we walked on the bay side of the island for about 2 miles.


A few intrepid souls were in swimming.  I wasn’t tempted to get wet.


Great Blue Heron doing a “happy dance” . . .

Aah . . . that’s better!

Have you ever tried any of these Japanese snacks?  What did you think?


1. aawwa - January 27, 2013

Sounds interesting!

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

Tokyo sounds like an awful place to live . . . expensive, crowded, and busy, busy, busy. Imagine paying $3,300 a month for a 450 sq. ft. apartment to share with 3 other people. Wow!

The lack of crime is appealing. The homeless can make a living recycling aluminum cans . . . without having to guard their gatherings if they need a nap.

2. sweetdaysundertheoaks - January 27, 2013

Nancy I believe I would have passed on the eels and jellyfish too. CH would have tried them I’m pretty sure..ick. Everything else looks fascinating, especially the baby eggplant and the wasabi seaweed crackers. The walk on the beach sounds wonderful! It’s raining here but I’m not complaining, we NEED it.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

A few people tried the eel and jellyfish . . . I didn’t see anyone ask for seconds. :mrgreen:

As for the rest, nothing tasted like much of anything. I wasn’t tempted to spit anything into my napkin, but nothing tempted me to reach for more. Very bland snacks.

Hey! Maybe that’s the secret to staying slim? Only keep bland snacks on hand. 😉

3. Absolutely Write - January 27, 2013

Wow, what a vast and varied feast!

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

We’ve heard Paul speak before ~ about Romania and Transylvania. During those lectures, we got to see food without sampling it (just as well since he ate that rat in Romania). 😯

Being able to sample the food while watching his travel slides was an unexpected bonus.

4. deanabo - January 27, 2013

amazing dishes to try!

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

And so much cheaper than visiting Japan.

As he shared, I decided that Japan doesn’t appeal to me as a travel destination. Far too expensive. Some of the prices amazed us:

Watermelon (in season) . . . $50
Postcard-sized apartment . . . $3300 a month
Poisonous puffer-fish dinner . . . $250 and up (and you have to catch the fish yourself from the fish tank in the lobby!)

A 2 foot x 2 foot cemetary/cremation plot . . . $25,000 and up

Of course, the price of the last is a bit deceptive since under a single monument marker will reside 40 or 50 of your nearest and dearest relatives . . . packed together like sardines.

5. suzicate - January 27, 2013

If I was dependent on that food I’d lose a few pounds…but oh, the walk on the beach…wonderful.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

Exactly my thought, Suzi. For me, the best part of travel is the food. Scottish scones, rustic breads in Italy, tangy feta in Greece, paella in Spain and Portugal.

Nothing about Japan’s cuisine would entice me to her shores.

6. Tammy - January 27, 2013

i once ate so much jackfruit that I cannot even tolerate the smell of it any longer.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

I hear ya! I can easily live the whole of my life without tasting jackfruit or lychee or lotus root again. They are far less interesting than fruits like oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, watermelon, pineapple, etc..

7. colonialist - January 27, 2013

I’ll try anything I know won’t kill me.
I have found the same regarding the general experience of these sorts of offerings. There are two possibilities, firstly that they are not up to much. The second one is that my tastebuds have been blasted by so much brashness that they are no longer able to appreciate really subtle flavours. Hmmm…?

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

Perhaps, but when I compared “their” fruit with “our” fruit . . . our fruit won hands down ~ juicier, tastier, better textures, etc. And I don’t add a thing to the natural goodness of fruit.

I also eat most vegetables with just a bit of salt, pepper, and (sometimes) butter. So I’m not sure that my tastebuds were the problem. 😉

8. Don - January 27, 2013

What tells me you weren’t impressed.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

Oh, you noticed. 😉

I was impressed at the great variety of things Paul brought us to sample . . . but the food just didn’t interest my tastebuds.

9. Andra Watkins - January 27, 2013

MTM lived in Japan for a while, and he mostly loved the food. He could never be a complete vegetarian because he loved sushi so much.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

I’ve never been a fan of sushi . . . except for veggie rolls with eye popping wasabi. 😯

10. Barbara Backer-Gray - January 27, 2013

Aw, sorry you didn’t like the food. I love lychees, and cumquats (uncandied) are good. In Holland we have the shrimp crackers with Indonesian rice table and such as a side. They are a bit bland, but that’s to counteract the spiciness of some of the other dishes. And I could eat sushi every day. I love wasabi-covered peas, too, in a masochistic sort of way.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to try so many different things with “nothing to lose.” I enjoy kumquats too . . . but fresh, not candied. And, yes, eating wasabi peas is a rather masochistic endeavor. “Sinuses are clean!” 😯

11. Crowing Crone Joss - January 27, 2013

I love lychee and am willing to pay the exorbitant price for them even. Truthfully, I’m not very bold when it comes to trying new foods.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

Do you buy lychee fresh, canned, dried, preserved, or frozen?

These were canned, I believe. As much as I love a ripe peach, and peach jam, canned peaches lose something in translation. Perhaps a fresh lychee would WOW me. 😀

Crowing Crone Joss - January 27, 2013

Fresh ones and yeah I think they would WOW you! Do try them if you get a chance.

nrhatch - January 27, 2013

Thanks, Joss. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

12. diannegray - January 28, 2013

We have lychee trees on the farm and the fruit is absolutely beautiful so I’m not sure why these ones didn’t knock your socks off (they may have been from a tin?)

It’s a shame that none of this food was anything to rave about because I’ve eaten Japanese and it’s not been too bad at all. However, I would have passed on the eel and jellyfish as well! 😯

nrhatch - January 28, 2013

Excellent! When I arrive for the Grand Opening of the RUC . . . I’ll try fresh lychee from one of your trees while playing pool! 😀

diannegray - January 28, 2013

Sounds like a plan! 😉

13. poet365 - January 28, 2013

There is only one problem with
calling into a blog like yours and that is…

Now I am hungry 🙂 I like your posting.

nrhatch - January 28, 2013

Help yourself! Definitely give the Rice Cakes a go. 😀

14. ericjbaker - January 28, 2013

I’ve had eel a few times. Teh texture was a bit soft for someone raised on chicken and pork, but the flavor is good. I’m suprised you didn’t like the dipped chocolate sticks. I enjoy them.

My experience with Asian food in the U.S. vs. getting it there is quite different. Tasting something out of a package here and buying it from a street vendor there… not even close.

Can you believe I got this far into a discussion of Japan without making a Godzilla reference?

nrhatch - January 28, 2013

The chocolate dipped sticks were fine . . . but they didn’t have a high enough chocolate to wafer ratio. Good point about getting it from a tin vs. getting the “real deal” from a native.

Godzilla! 😯

15. Three Well Beings - January 28, 2013

I am sure that somewhere along the way I must have tried one of those candies. They look very familiar. We have a very large Japanese population in SoCal and the groceries do feature all of these items, but they’ve never called to me! 🙂 I don’t think I’ll be too adventurous in those areas in the future either. And the eels and jelly fish are a guarantee “no go.” I’m the stick-in-the-mud with friends when everyone else wants sushi…A California roll is as adventurous as I get, and that doesn’t have any uncooked fish at all! 🙂

nrhatch - January 28, 2013

I’m with you on the sushi, Debra. If it boasts raw fish, I’ll let someone else do the consuming.

I feel the same about ceviche ~ despite claims that the seafood has been “cooked” in citrus juice. 😉

16. dearrosie - January 28, 2013

You know how you can’t compare a rock hard peach bought in a supermarket with one freshly picked off a tree? You have not eaten a lychee until you’ve eaten one fresh off the tree….oh for a freshly picked lychee that I ate in South Africa 🙂

nrhatch - January 28, 2013

That’s definitely the consensus from you, Joss, and Dianne. So I’ll be on the lookout for a freshly picked lychee. Thanks, Rosie.

17. jannatwrites - January 29, 2013

Um, where’s the cheeseburgers? 😀

I don’t believe I would have sampled any of it (especially jellyfish or eels) so you are much more adventurous than I am!

nrhatch - January 29, 2013

You sound like BFF who tried 2 things only ~ rice cakes & chocolate dipped wafers. 😉

18. kateshrewsday - January 29, 2013

I would have tucked in, Nancy 🙂 That food looks intriguing!

nrhatch - January 29, 2013

I tried a little bit of everything. except for the jellyfish and eel. His presentation was intriguing too ~ I would have enjoyed seeing less of Tokyo and more countryside. Personal preference.

19. bluebee - February 3, 2013

I’m such an unadventurous eater – the rice crackers would have been IT for me, haha

nrhatch - February 3, 2013

BFF passed on everything but the rice crackers and the chocolate too. As it turned out, those were the two things that I liked best . . . so he didn’t miss much. 😀

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