A few years back my brother went to Japan to do some fieldwork for several months. Although he had been taking Japanese for several years, the classroom language skills and real-life language skills are different kinds of skills.
Early on in his endeavour, trying to immerse himself in the local culture, he went to a restaurant. He picked up the menu and had no idea what any of the names of dishes meant. Well, he thought, if the Japanese can eat something, he can, too.
When the waiter came to his table, my brother pointed (randomly?) at a menu item. The waiter gave him a strange look for a second, then smiled, bowed and walked away. Seconds later he came back with a little net, walked over to the aquarium in the corner and netted a little fish. He slapped the fish onto a plate and brought the plate to my brother.
The fish, alive and flapping, was looking up at my brother. The waiter produced a knife and a fork and watched with amusement and apprehension.
There was no going back. My brother is a brave man. A few minutes later, the poor fish was marinating in his digestive juices. The waiter smiled. My brother ordered another glass of sake.
He wrote a story about this experience and the story got aired on the Japanese National Radio. I doubt he has ever ordered the same dish again, though. Which reminds me of a story….
Back in Belgrade, in the deep winter, when one’s breath froze in the air, after riding three or four frisky horses, nothing felt better than going to a nearby warm cafe/restaurant with my friends. We would each order a half-liter bottle of Niksicko Pivo (the best beer in the world) and a pound of fried smelt (or anchovies).
Fried smelt (‘girice’) are really small fish – 2-3- inches in length – and they were so thoroughly deep-fried that their soul was fried, too. The ultimate fish’n’chips: tastes like fish, but is crunchy like chips.
Most people eat fried smelt by picking up the fish by its head and biting off the rest of it. I (as always) had to be different, so I picked them up by their tails and ate them whole. That way, I got more nutrition, and it was crunchier, too.
At the and of the meal, my plate would have just a little bit of grease on it. Others’ plates would have piles of little heads. One day one of my firends finally asked me why I ate the heads, too. My answer: because I could not stand the guilt-trip induced by the accusing stares of the poor fish eyes…let’s have another beer before going back to the stable to clean out the stalls and feed the horses before going home to crash.
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