Teaching In Socks


No substitutions

I suppose one cultural note that I have forgotten to manage over the last year is that ordering off the menu is completely unheard of in Japan.

When I first arrived, I viewed this as a culinary adventure (in addition to all the other adventures it is) and thus never even considered trying to ask for a dish other than how it was presented on the menu–not that I could have linguistically managed it anyway. I ordered, ate and kept my complaints to myself (most of the time). It has become such a habit that I have completely forgotten that food alterations and specifications were physically possible.  And I don’t feel like I missing some necessary meal-enjoyment tool, which is odd, because I feel like I should be. There was probably a period in my life (forever) in which "On-the-side Reilly” would have been an apt nickname (“hold the salad”and “I’ll make a PBJ” would have also been appropriate).

In a sense, the language barrier brought down a culinary barrier. Even this past weekend I discovered at both lunch and dinner that I had ordered dishes with capers in them. Privately I thought, “fucking capers” (because I was hungry and I use curses word rather liberally in my thoughts when I am hungry) but in no way did I ever consider the possibility  that I could have requested the same meals devoid of capers.

That said, being deprived of their certain inalienable customization rights seems to be one of the few drawbacks visiting Americans encounter.  In both cases where I’ve had visitors, there has been occasion where we have been out a meal and the visitor says, “can we get it without X?”. This request is always something that seems relatively logical, and uncomplicated.  Then I start to give the standard “ehhhhh” response and their first inclination is to say, “oh because you don’t know the Japanese?” and while the answer to that question is usually yes, the more important answer is that anything I say will undoubtedly confuse the hell out of our server. It likes going to the bank and asking them for haircut–they really don’t know what to do with what you’re saying.

In one instance, a restaurant we were eating at had spicy-sour shrimp and spicy-sour beef  on their outdoor menu. Inside, the menu we were given had only the shrimp. We asked if they could give us the beef (they had many other beef dishes) with the spicy-sour sauce. This seems like a simple request; they have the beef, they have the sauce and the ability ot mix the two.  The waitress first titled her head in they way that all animals do when they are painfully perplexed. After processing what we were trying to ask her, she replied without hesitation said that it was impossible. I suppose there is a small price to pay for not having to tip your servers.

The only success I’ve ever seen was a friend who studied up on the Japanese names for ingredients of a McDonald’s hamburger and then drew a diagram that indicated that he wanted only ketchup. While his method was successful, I think we can all agree that a man who goes through that much trouble to get a plain burger is mentally unstable and is most likely eating burger that contains ketchup and lugee well, they’d  They’d never do that in Japan actually, but definitely ketchup and mental lugee.

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