Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Of Mikan, Pan, and a Disappointing Pizza

One of the delights of Japan is the Mikan orange, which is, I think, the same as what you find in cans of Mandarian oranges. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket and looks like a tangerine. Like a tangerine, the skin peels right off, very easily. But, when you eat it, it tastes like an orange and there are no seeds. It’s very juicy and delicious. Once, when we were eating it, Megumi and Kengo began counting the segments, which I never thought to do. There were nine: eight normal segments and one puny, deformed one.

Another thing that is surprising in the large amount of bread or pan, they have in Japan. (Pan, by the way, comes either from the Spanish or Portuguese word for bread.) One of my favorites is Melon Pan, which, despite it’s name, tastes nothing like a melon at all. It reminds me more of pandulce or Mexican sweet bread—those round ones with sweet bits on the top. Melon pan is also round and very lightly sweet. I like it best when my host mom toasts it for me, so it’s nice and warm, and serves it to me for breakfast in the morning.

There are all kinds of bread in Japan, most of which can be found for about 100 yen. There are squashed rolls with hotdogs in them, there are sandwiches without crusts, there are giant chocolate éclairs and pastries filled with sweet red bean. Once one of my friends bought a roll of “salty chocolate,” which was really filled with salty chocolate—and it wasn’t bad, either. Another time I got something that was advertised as a Cabbage Hamburger. It was a roll, shaped like a hamburger, with some sort of cabbage patty in between. There are many types of bread filled with things. Just this week I bought what I thought was a pizza looking bread with dried tomato and parsley on it. But when I bit into it I discovered, much to my surprise, pickled ginger and cold yakisoba.

Outside of snacks like pan and the school cafeteria, food can be expense, especially if you want foreign food. My two favorite types of food are Mexican and Italian. My host mother told me the first day that, while there were several Italian restaurants in Nagoya, there were practically no Mexican restaurants. That feels sad to me. I wouldn’t mind cooking some Mexican food, but the ingredients aren’t in the grocery stores. You have to go to the more expensive, imported food stores to pick up a can of refried beans or some tortillas.

Though the Italian food is available, my family still eats it only rarely. Once we had speghetti for dinner. Most of the time, if I want Italian food, I have to go out to eat it. Some of the Italian restaurants are a little expensive. Last Thursday, for instance, I went to one and got a set meal that came with a small soup and salad, a drink of your choice, and a large plate of pasta of your choice. I got a simple tomato cream and motzerella sauce, which had unanticipated shrimp tossed in (fortunately I’m getting used to shrimp). I also got a cream soda, which was green and had a scoop of ice cream floating in it. The meal cost 1350 yen. Like I said, a little expensive.

But even that was better than the time I went to an Italian resturant to get a pizza. At that time, I was in an expensive area, where everything was in the 1000 yen and up range. So when I saw a nice Italian resturant that sold a fairly large-looking pizza for 900 yen, I thought, why not? After all, I hadn’t had pizza in a month. The pizza, however, turned out not to be quite the deal I thought it was.

“Sure, the pizza was big alright, but it was thin. I wasn’t too shocked; I had expected there to be a catch. (After all, the pizza was a good 8, 10 inches—$9 in America would be reasonable. But because this was Italian food in Japan, it was too good a deal.) The sauce, cheese, and toppings (tomatos and some sort of green leaf) were fine—the sauce was maybe a little sweet, but I liked it. I did not like the crust, which was aired out and crispy and quite flavorless. The dough was little thicker than a piece of paper and just as limp. Tomatos kept sliding off.”

--Nikki, February 4, 2006

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