A Japanese Menu, Part I - Lost in Translation

Beef Tataki with a Ponzu Dressing and Micro-Cress Salad



Light & Crispy Shrimp Tempura with Tentsuyu dipping Sauce



Chicken with a Miso & Ponzu Marinade, Namasu Salad & Wasabi Yuzu Kosho




To say that things get ‘lost in translation’ in Japan is an understatement. And, more to the point, implies that there is an attempt at translation being made in the first place. Travelling in some of the lesser-touristed parts of Southern Japan for instance, where an English menu is just not on offer, and an English speaking restaurateur nowhere to be found, means sitting down to eat without any of the usual choices, expectations, descriptions, or explanations. Which, as it turns out, was actually quite enlightening. (Though I am not telling the entire truth here concerning translations, they were to be found very occasionally. One ‘English’ menu included, for instance, ‘Hail clothes deep frying of the Japanese icefish.’ Intriguing, but not necessarily helpful!).

Topping the list of things that this strange experience taught me, is that there may be some truth to idea that if you eat something you dislike repeatedly, you might actually come to like it. So far, I’ve only ever heard of this technique proving successful with fussy children, (fussy adults being a little bit more difficult to trick into repeatedly harassing their taste buds, although I have tried). But, after seven days of non-stop and unavoidable tofu, when it dawned on me that I was actually happily anticipating being presented with another primarily tofu-based meal, I realised there may be something to whole idea. Although it’s likely the effect is only a temporary one, as I can’t say I’ve touched tofu since. Let alone the bright pink ‘Sakura’ tofu ubiquitously trotted out in celebration of the cherry blossom season.

Which brings me onto a concept, that, while quintessentially Japanese, has a wider appeal perhaps, than pink tofu. The term ‘mono no aware’ refers to the particular beauty the Japanese identify in transience, in fleeting, impermanent things, exemplified by the delicate blossoming of the cherry trees that occurs in a south-north sweep, and heralds the beginning of spring. A slightly stiff breeze, or sudden rain shower is enough to send the petals fleeing from their branches, which, while resulting in a very momentarily beautiful snow of pink, can leave the trees sullenly bare again in a matter of moments.

The moral of the story being, although my love of tofu may have been fleeting, it was certainly beautiful while it lasted. Or, when things change, as they always do, its worth remembering that the beautiful moments might be thought of more beautifully for it…


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