Would you dare to eat these weird Japanese foods?

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  • When it comes to food, Japan always scores high – both in refined dishes and tasty street foods and the so-called B-Gourmet. From the ancestral sushi to the all-popular ramen, Japan is a foodie paradise. However, hidden in the dark, there are some foods, each stranger than each other, that you have probably never experienced.

    Whether you want to challenge yourself and try them, or you just want to know what to avoid, here are some Japanese foods that are on the weirder side.

    Natto 納豆

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    Natto (fermented soybeans) is one of those foods dividing people, even within Japan. Either you like it, or hate it. Those who love natto say it increases their appetite for the rest of the meal. Those who dislike it describe this dish as the stinkiest, foulest food they have ever experienced.
    In fact, for most of us, the strong smell of emanating ammonia would instinctively be perceived as expired food, therefore as dangerous.
    And when you pass this first smelly “obstacle”, you will have to deal with natto’s unusual soapy texture and sliminess. It definitely both looks and smells rotten and many people cannot even stand being in the room where natto is eaten.

    But, despite of this, natto remains a breakfast staple of many Japanese people and it is dubbed a super healthy dish.

    mayeb we should not judge the book by its cover.

    Shirako 白子

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    Have you ever wondered what does seminal fluid of fish tastes like? Well, stop wondering, because you can taste it yourself in Japan. Yes, you read that right, shirako (“milt” in English, and literally “white children” in Japanese) refers to the male genitalia of fish when they contain sperm. Particularly the fish sperm of cod, angler fish, salmon, squid or puffer fish. You could eat shirako either cooked or raw.

    Namako ナマコ

    Another slimy creature from the sea, the namako or sea cucumber has made many people gag and regret trying it. People who happily eat raw octopus or sea urchin have easily dived into namako, only to be unpleasantly surprised.
    The taste is described as bland without any fixings, yet also very fishy when raw, but the bigger issue is the slippery and slimy texture. Sea cucumber is eaten both raw and cooked, and it is known as difficult to prepare and make tasty. However, it still managed to be seen as delicacy in Asia and some people believe it has health benefits and aphrodisiac powers.

    Inago イナゴ

    Let’s veer into creepy crawly territory. Although not widespread today, Japan has a history (and a bit of a present) of eating insects, especially in the Nagano and Gifu areas. One of the most popular bugs to eat even today is inago or locusts, in a dish pictured above and called ‘inago no tsukudani’ which is basically locusts stir fried in soy sauce and sugar. People who have eaten it say they only taste like soy, but still there are not many people that would crunch a whole bug in their mouths.

    Locusts can still be found in izakayas and some restaurants today.

    Hachinoko 蜂の子

    Hachinoko literally translates to ‘bee children’, but ‘hachi’ also stands for wasps. In Nagano and Gifu areas but also in the rest of Japan, they eat the larvae of a type of wasp. They are eaten both cooked and raw, mixed in rice, as a snack that goes well with beer etc. As with all insects, this dish is very off-putting for people, but also sad as the insect consumed is practically a baby.

    Zazamushi ざざ虫

    One last cringey bug dish before we move on to bigger animals. Zazamushi stands for various larvae, especially stone-fly larvae. As the other insects on this list, they are stir fried, flavoured with spices and eaten as snacks. They can still be found and eaten around the country, especially in the countryside.

    Fugu 河豚

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    This one is already well known. Served as sashimi or chirinabe (hot pot with fish and vegetables), the fugu is a fish which is, contrary to most foods in this article, known as being delicious. Its texture is gelatinous, it doesn’t smell fishy, and it contains the most “umami” among fish.
    “How is it a challenge to eat this finest fish then?” you could wonder. Health security reasons. Indeed, if not correctly prepared, this puffer fish could “just” kill you. The liver is said to be the best part, but unfortunately you won’t officially (in restaurants) be able to savor it anymore in Japan. Serving this organ was banned in 1984. To reassure you, thanks to the strict Japanese regulations only the chefs who have qualified after three or more years of rigorous training are allowed to prepare this fish.

    Basashi 馬刺し

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    The basashi’s challenge appears to be more ethical than gustative. Basashi stands for horse sashimi and it is just that – slices of raw horse meat.
    I have had this dish couple of times in Fukuoka (capital of Kyushu) which is known to have it quite often in restaurants. But let’s be honest, the taste was not amazing. I would not say it is bad, but it’s not good either.

    The main problem is that culturally many people see horses as friends. It’s a similar issue to eating dogs, or for many Japanese people eating a rabbit would be a no-no as they see it as a cute pet.

    Basashi can be found all across Japan. You can also find cooked horse meat dishes like stews.

    Kujira 鯨

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    Kujira, or whale, is another one on this list that is internationally controversial. The whale meat normally eaten in Japan is from the Minke whale (Minku kujira), which is one of the least threatened species of whales, and quite commonly found in Japanese supermarkets, thanks to Japan’s “scientific” whaling program. Whale meat is usually very lean and red with fine marbling, slightly deeper in hue than other red meats. And because it is a mammal, it is in matters of taste, closer to a beefsteak than to a fish.

    If you read down to here and went through all the dishes, only one question remains: Would you dare?

    1. Johnnie says:

      Kujira is very good. I’ve had it as sashimi, cooked, and seared in a restaurant in Roppongi where they cook over burning rice straw. Mochi is just boring and tasteless.

    2. Johnnie says:

      Horse meat was disappointing, too chewy.

    3. Every time I arrive in Japan first thing I do is go to an Izakaya and order Takowasa (raw octopus with lots of wasabi and peppers) and basashi – delicious. I love nattou too, with traditional breakfast. Whale is a bit overrated I think, but not certainly bad.

    4. Ginny Le says:

      Ha ha I love what you wrote about natto. So funny. I haven’t tried the 3 other dishes. I couldn’t stand natto either. Lol. So you are the English teacher who cannot eat it. :D

    5. Ashwin Campbell says:

      The only one of the four I cannot eat is Kujira. I tried it ant the only way I can describe it is like eating a radial tire that’s been in the ocean for 50years. The taste was like the smell at low tide and the texture was steel-belted radial.

    6. Alex White says:

      I am a Christian, but I have decided to follow the Jewish diet as closely as possible. Right now, I am focusing on not eating unclean meats since I don’t know any Jews to ask about dietary restrictions. (If you didn’t know, Christianity is derived from Judaism.) What do I mean by “unclean meat”?

      The first rule is this: “Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.” Leviticus 11:3 Both conditions have to be met in order to be considered clean. A common example of an unclean meet from a mammal (of which this verse is talking about) is the Pig. In anime, I have seen them mention pork quite often, so I know the Japanese eat pig meat. Furthermore, it is stated that we shouldn’t even touch it: “Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.” Leviticus 11:8

      The second rule is this: “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.” Leviticus 11:9 As with above, both conditions have to be met. This means no shrimp, lobster, squid, octopus, oysters, clams, crabs, whale, seal, porpoise, dolphins, otters, scallop, shark, etc.

      Birds are named specifically. Eagle, ossifrage, osprey, vulture, kite, raven, owl, nighthawk, cuckow, hawk, little owl, cormorant, the great owl, swan, pelican, gier eagle, stork, heron, lapwing, and the bat. These are unclean.

      Even insects have a rule: Leviticus 11:20-23 “All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you. Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth; Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind. But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.”

      Then there is this: Leviticus 11:27-30
      And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcass shall be unclean until the even.
      And he that beareth the carcass of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you.
      These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind,
      And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.

      As long as I follow these rules, I don’t have to worry about it tasting bad.
      Oh, I can’t forget that anything alcoholic (aka, fermented, aka rotten) is also not allowed. And I do have personal preferences for vegetables. I am a selective eater, especially with vegetables. Fruits, I don’t really have a problem with. I would have to taste it first to know.

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