Japan’s Test Foods

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Japanese people are known for lots of things weird commercials, samurai culture, the ability to keep their emotions to themselves, and a variety of other things that are much less common than the rest of the world would like to think. Something that often gets left out is their inherent sense of humor.

Something that seems to be universal among people who have lived or spent a lot of time in Japan is the food test story. Spend any time in or around a group of Japanese people and they will inevitably test you on your willingness to try any food. Ok. It’s not just trying the food that’s the key. You need to try the food and not make a fuss about it. Since Japanese people look down on making others uncomfortable with inappropriate feelings, being a good sport is very important.

With this in mind I present three foods that are very popular test foods. These scary foods can make or break your image with your group. Are you hard core enough to eat stringy tofu? Can you smile through extremely sour pickled plums?

Now this is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are some favorites I’ve heard of over and over again.

3. Umeboshi/Umezuke

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Look appetizingly wrinkled don’t they?

Ume are tiny little plums. They can come in one of two ways. Umeboshi are salted and dried whereas umezuke are pickled. They are the same fruit. These little dried or pickled plums are likely to make you pucker up the same way that a warhead would only there isn’t really a sweet interior.

To be fair most times umeboshi are put inside of rice or along with other food. You don’t really just pop them into your mouth and chew, unlike the stupid gaijin writing this post. Yes I was curious once. The assistant in my college class was good enough to bring them to our weekly language meeting. Before she could tell me, I’d reached in and stuffed one in my mouth. I think I may have spit it out. Not my finest moment.

2. Shirako

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Ok, Mrs. Emeigh it looks like sushi right?

Sushi, it looks like sushi. Once you get past the fact that a lot of sushi involves raw fish you’re good right….right?

What’s in that picture is definitely raw and it’s definitely from a fish. It’s just that in this case the part of the fish it’s from is what makes it a bit suspect.

Now you’re looking back up at the picture wondering if what is rolled between that single piece of seaweed is brains. The way it twists and turns makes you think you’d be right.

You’ve gotten the entirely wrong end of the fish. This particular food can only come from a male fish. It’s attached to a particular part of the male fish and without it female fish couldn’t fertilize their eggs. If this hasn’t been enough to clue you in, I’ll be straight up with you.

It’s a fish sperm sack. To be more specific it comes from a cod. I’ve yet to eat this food (I’m also secretly hoping I won’t have to), but the accounts of this particular delicacy bursting under your teeth in your mouth is enough to keep me on the sidelines. Enough said? I thought so.

1. Natto

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Umm, Mrs. Emeigh, what the heck is that?

Surely whatever is last on this list can’t be worse than a fish sperm sack, right Mrs. Emeigh? Right?

Ahh, readers I really wish that were the case, but there is one food almost universally reviled and universally forced on gaijin. That food is none other than natto.

Natto is made entirely of fermented soybeans that are slimy, smelly, and above all stringy. Look at it! Do you see the fermented tendrils waiting to stick to your tongue?

Many Japanese people don’t even like the smell let alone the taste, but the foods inherent healthiness has kept it around. Many of them will ask you if you like natto. Many will even try to test you on it if you claim to. Still other evil individuals with force you to try it, more on that in just a moment. You can find it everywhere from nice restaurants to combini (corner convenience stores). Generally people eat it straight with a little seasoning and nothing else. Other times they put it on toast.

Ahh yes, back to evil individuals. One such individual already has plans for this writer to try natto on a day that is none other than her birthday. Thank you husband. Since I’m going to get to spend an extra two weeks in Japan, I must, on my birthday, consume natto on camera for my husband.

Don’t worry I’ll be sure to take pictures and write about it. I’m sure you’ll all love to watch me suffer. Ahh schadenfreude….

Please enlighten me. Are there any foods most people dislike that you simply love? Maybe I’ll even consider eating them some day.

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4 thoughts on “Japan’s Test Foods

  1. I suppose all places have their test foods. In southeast Asia, it’s the durian, sometimes known as the “king of fruits.” Every time I went into a supermarket in Singapore I was assaulted by its rotten garbage smell until I could escape the produce section. They were banned on public transit because of the smell.
    I couldn’t not try it, though, and when I did… well, I was not pleased. It cycled through a variety of flavors, some not terrible, but the one that stuck at the end was awful. I would complain about the custardlike texture too, but I’ve found the pawpaw fruit has the same texture and I love it.
    Good luck with the natto. I don’t think I could get my guts up to eat it. Or keep my guts down? Either way, good luck.

    1. I’ve heard about durian. I don’t think I’d ever want to eat one, but if asked I’m sure I’d try it. I’m not looking forward to the natto, but I would probably get asked to eat it eventually one way or the other. I might as well just get it over with I think.

    1. It is indeed, but then again to other cultures some of the things we eat are weird. Lots of people would never eat menudo. To others jut eating beef would be sacrilegious. And in at least one culture they’d think we were weird for keeping guinea pigs in our homes and not eating them (true story go look it up.) Weird is definitely relative to your own experiences.

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