Foodzilla II. Frytening.

LONGREAD
Where is he gay today? Osaka Soemoncho, Sannomiya and Kobe Harbour. 

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The story so far: Dazzled by the dining options of the Dotonbori, Osaka's restaurant district, my husband and I set out to find a doofus food joint that won't challenge our soon to be inebriated brains. 

Don't you hate Westerners who won't shut up about Japanese food? It's so light! It 's so natural!  It's so pure so special so cleansing so spiritual so harmony with nature so blah blah blah blah wank wank wank! 

Here's what you should do with these people. Get them to shut their eyes, dip a piece of avocado in wasabi and soy, and tell them it's high grade tuna.  They won't know the difference. 

Truth is, not even the Japanese can live on raw fish and vinegary rice at every meal.  

First of all, it's expensive.  There's an old Japanese saying: I used to be rich, but I ate sushi.  And we're in Osaka, which is cheapskate central. Here's a Kansai saying: I'd rather lose a finger than a yen.

Furthermore, Japanese people like to drink. 

Unless you're quaffing champagne with caviar, raw fish is extremely poor drinking food. Insubstantial, unabsorbent of alcohol, and frankly, a little bland.

That may be OK among the social and corporate elites of Tokyo.  But Kansajin have zero patience for bullshit.  Ain't got no time for twelve courses of exquisitely arranged kaiseki.  Your average Osakan would be gnawing off his limbs before dessert.  

If a Kansaijin starts gnawing off his limbs, that shows his stomach is empty.  Japanese people hate drinking on an empty stomach, because—how can I put this nicely?—the ability to hold one's liquor is not exactly a national trait. 

Daikichi. Total alcoeats. 

My husband is a Kansai lad, so he knows this district very well indeed.  "Follow me," he said with a glimmer of nostalgia in his eye. "I'll take you to a place where Oscar and I would eat after drinking on the gay scene."

This remark predicted a night of heavy turpentine.  Oscar is my husband's gay BFF, or as we gay gents sometimes say among ourselves, BFFF.  

Oscar is a brilliant Kansai native, who reads his namesake Wilde in the original English, and speaks it with a perfect—and perfectly gay—Oxbridge accent.  But that wasn't the element of his character which I recall most vividly.  My fondest recollection of Oscar is his taste for gin and tonic, and his sneer if you pour too much of the latter. 

If this restaurant has the Oscar Seal of Approval, it will serve drinking food. Decision Accomplished. 

Thus did we find ourselves at the venerable Daikichi, or 大吉.  The kanji translate as great run of luck or on a roll.  (Odd. We didn't find fugu on the menu, so a run of good luck isn't critical.)

A thirty-seat izakaya, Daikichi cultivates a reputation as an insider secret. The celebrity autographs reminded me of a hole-in-the-wall trattoria in Naples or Brooklyn, whose owner is proud of the luminaries who sought out his special skills. Like its Italian counterparts, I suspect that Daikichi has seen the odd mafioso parking his legs under a table.  Tattoos, such as those on the gent in the glossy, are widely believed to be a sign of a yakuza.  

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In Japanese, the kanji for izakaya (居酒屋) literally mean a liquor store you can stay and drink at.  So the dishes tend toward bar food, small and sharable, like tapas.  Management has plastered its menu on the wall, revealing prices between one and four bucks each.

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Luckily, Daikichi provides an English menu for its foreign guests. Though the word English  may be a tad generous. 

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A whelk is a species of sea snail. You're whelcome.
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I wasn't game to try the fried hormone.  It sounded too much like a description of me in college. 

My husband needed neither menu nor wall; he ordered from memory. His youthful evenings always kicked off with octopus, and a fine choice it is.

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Pitch a tentacle

More fast food followed, keeping us content while our main meal was prepared.  The tofu soup and grilled sardines made a small gesture to healthy dining.  We quickly undid these health benefits with two rounds of Asahi Super Dry.  

(An aside: when I lived in Japan, I always wanted to get into English language voice-overs.  Many commercials end with an English tag-line, and I imagined it to be a pretty good racket.  Most famous was the abundantly-advertised Asahi Super Dry beer, whose royalty-rich TV spots concluded with its name delivered in a perfect be-afraid-be-very-afraid blockbuster American movie voice, which I can do in a dawdle.  Alas, the only gig I could score was Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat.)

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While we drank and nibbled, the TV on the wall caught our eye.  An Osaka talk show.

In Japan, the words "Osaka" and "Talk Show" add up to an oxymoron.  Osaka has talk-everything.   Nobody ever shuts up.  (The stereotype of shy Japanese folk comes from Tokyo, where government bureaucrats and corporate cogs waste oxygen in silent, organisation-man presenteeism.) 

The Osaka dialect reminds an Anglophone listener of outer-borough New Yorkese; fast, impatient, and the natural language of comedy.  There's no better example of this than Sanma Akashiya—Sanma for short.  A titan of mirth, he's been clocked as Japan's fastest speaker.  (Click this link to hear how fast he talks while interviewing hapless heartthrob Takuya Kimura, a Tokyo native and ex-member of Japan's most popular boy-band of the early twenty-first century, SMAP.  The limp-personalitied Kimura stands no chance against smart-aleck Sanma. Even Beyonce totally pwned him.)  

But that night on Osaka TV, Sanma encountered someone who could give it as well as take it.  Hailing from Chiba (Tokyo's New Jersey) the sumo-sized cross-dresser Matsuko Deluxe furnishes bitchy wisecracks to talk shows across the nation.  She started her career as a writer for Japan's pioneering gay magazine, Buddy, before hitting the big time. 

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Just in case you were wondering, Sanma is the one on the right.

Choosing the politically-correct English pronoun for Matsuko Deluxe is no easy matter, since Japanese pronouns have no gender.  Her drag-name, Matsuko, is clearly female.  Ko means small, and as a suffix, it might be translated as -ette.

To assign the right pronoun, we must listen to her speech patterns.  Deluxe uses the grammatically proper watashi to refer to herself, equivalent to the English I or me.  When speaking casually, most women will continue to use watashi or atashi, whereas men will change to boku or ore.  It causes many a snicker when men who have learned Japanese as a second language continue to use watashi, no matter what the context.  Lookin' at you, millennial American gamers. 

This show combined two Osaka obsessions, talk and food.  A rather large panel of talkative celebs watched evergreen A-lister tarento Nozomi Tsuji prepare a meal, to crack wise at her attempts.   Displaying no gender ambiguity, we caught the former starlet preparing a seaweed garnish for miso soup. 

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Sanma and Deluxe traded gags, while a noted doctor (also on the panel) touted the digestive virtues of having miso soup with your rice.  We listened closely.  We could use a few urgent health tips, since main course was on its way. 

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Many westerners look at Japanese people, few of whom are fat—sumo wrestlers or Matsuko Deluxe notwithstanding—and conclude that a Japanese diet keeps one trim.  World Health Organisation data published in 2017 ranks Japan 185th out of 191 countries in obesity, with a mere 4% of citizens officially classed as tubby.  The average Japanese body Mass Index lobs in at a svelte 23.  Thus, many assume that all Japanese food is low-fat, nutrient rich, and good for you.  As I mentioned above, that assumption is false.  Because this: 

Fried deliciousness
clockwise from top left: shu mai, tofu, beef, chicken, eggplant, shrimp and...um, dunno.

What lardy magnificence!  It's an Osaka specialty known as kushikatsu (串カツ).  If one prefers to avoid katsu, the borrowed French word for cutlet, one can also say kushiage (串揚げ).  Literally: fried stuff on a stick.  The Japanese character for skewer, kushi (串), is a nice bit of visual onomatopoeia.  

Now this is goddamn drinking food, amirite?  Beats your hard-to-eat wings and nachos.  And please, don't tell me that everything looks like a corn dog, because they just ain't in the same league. 

In olden times, restaurants often charged the same price for every stick. Customers would present a glass with their empty sticks to the cashier, who counted them up and thus settled the bill. One gets a proper check nowadays, but the tradition of collecting your skewers in a beer glass remains. 

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I took in this glorious scene, and grilled my husband. 

"An Osaka specialty, you say?"

"Yes."

"So, other restaurants in Kansai serve this?"

"Everywhere. Western Japan loves fried food."

"That means we don't have to live on sushi and ramen for the whole of this week, right?"

My husband scoffed.  "Of course not. Kansaijin aren't stupid."

Our vacation was looking up. 

Suika KYK, Sannomiya.  Pig out.

The next night, we set off in search of the crumbiest dinner we could find. We made it just in time.  Restaurant KYK closed permanently not long after we visited.  Clearly, we were the ultimate in alpha-customers.  Management gave up.  Future patrons could not possibly meet our measure of gluttony.

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Thrifty Kansai fellow that he is, the numerous set-menu options in the window attracted my husband's attention.  Frittered food makes an ideal Japanese restaurant window display; the crumbs are very easy to duplicate in acrylic, and lose none of their appetite appeal.  Oddly, many restaurants still cover these fake plastic dishes in cling-film overnight. Not to preserve the food, but simply because the plastic models are a pain in the ass to dust.

One of the plastic window models
Not exactly Surf 'n' Turf.  Pig 'n' Prawn, maybe?  Fruit of Sea and Swill?

Digesting such mountains of  fried food would make even the sturdiest bowel wince.  So Osaka custom demands side-dishes of fibrous cabbage, rice for ballast, and miso soup as a digestif.  In unlimited quantities, to do battle with the giant gut-clogging cutlets for which the place was famous. 

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Look at the pork cutlets below, and look at my husband's hand for scale.  KYK served up a mess o'pig.  Fried to perfection, these thick slabs of pork stayed juicy, with just the barest wisp of pink in the middle. 

Crumbed prawns (or for you Americans, breaded shrimp) came with the set.  The decadence of deep-fried oysters was entirely my husband's touch.  Note the plentiful dipping sauces and sinus-scorching Chinese mustard.

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We tucked in so heartily that the server rushed over with emergency cabbage, almost instantly. She repeated this several times. 

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I had never experienced a food coma in Japan.  But this meal caused our eyelids to droop, and both of us to yawn with satisfaction.  We lounged around for about half an hour, picking our teeth with a Proo. 

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Teppanyaki Grill Tajima, Portopia Hotel, Minatojima Kobe

We took my husband's parents to dinner the following evening, which pushed us upmarket.  Could we keep up our fry-happy lifestyle?  Teppanyaki gave us the perfect solution.

The Restaurant Tajima is located in a hotel on Port Island, a man-made island in Kobe Harbour.  I use the phrase "man-made" because when I called it a fake island, my husband objected. "It's not a fake island.  I saw the many tonnes of dirt they trucked into the harbour to make it.  It's a true island from top to bottom."  

(Hmmm...surely, islands don't have bottoms.  That's how you can tell them apart from a boat.)

When in Kobe, beef it up.  And since Kobe is a port city, do seafood too.  The lanced prawns were still alive and wriggling as the chef presented them to us.  

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Ordinarily, I wouldn't include pricey teppanyaki in a piece about comfort food.  But here are four reasons: 

  1. It's fried. 
  2. Look at the fat in the Kobe Beef below. I'd say the fat/protein ratio in that cow ran at 50/50.  This pushes it well into state fair concession territory, and maybe even rivals French food.
  3. Look at the picture below. The chef topped the scallop dish with a pillow of fried cheese.
  4. Let me repeat: fried cheese 

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Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari, Kobe Harbour City

On the Kobe waterfront, we hit a motherlode of oil and crumbs.

Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari sits inside a mall of restaurants facing the waterfront at Kobe.  The name is almost as long as one of those pesky German words.  It's so long, I haven't attempted to type it; readers may assure themselves that every mention of the restaurant's name has been cut and pasted from its Yelp entry.  

As best I can figure out the kanji, (神楽食堂 串家物語) the name means The Story of the Gods' Temple of Easy Meals.  

"Here's the deal," explained my husband. "At (ctrl+V) Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari, ¥2000 (USD $18, €15) gets you all you can eat. Another ¥1000 ($9, €7.50) gets you all the beer you can drink."  He paused for a moment, trying to contain his enthusiasm. "I think we'll get our money's worth on both counts."

"What's on the menu here at (ctrl+V) Kagurashokudoukushiyamonogatari," I asked?

"Fried stuff on a stick." His eyes went dreamy. "Fried stuff on a stick, forever. There's a catch, though.  Like a Korean barbeque, you gotta cook it it yourself."  

One starts at the buffet of pre-stabbed edibles. Patrons choose among meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, tofu, and other items of indeterminate provenance. 

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Lotus root and okra
For the vegetable course, lotus root and okra

A diner-cum-chef carries his selection to the table, where a modest friteuse awaits, dangerously hot.  (The grillwork on all four sides is an exhaust fan, by the way.)

One coats the food with a slurry of water and cornstarch, which allows the breadcrumbs to adhere.  You rest the coated stick inside hot oil, and when done, slather it with dipping sauce.   At this link, you can watch two young women show how it's done.

First course
First course: crab, shrimp, tofu, mushroom, potato, beef, pork, chicken, champignon, fish balls and...um, something else we couldn't identify.  Appetiser: beer. 

The sticks emerge crisp, ready for a good dipping. 

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We tasted the first lot, and maybe went a little overboard.

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The place was packed with teenagers, and no wonder.  Not only did the food suit an immature palate, it thrived on a teenager's underdeveloped impulse control. 

The two teen girls at the next table had packed away a brace of kushi, and moved onto dessert.  I did a double take when I saw them eating soft-serve ice cream cones with a spoon. 

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In Japanese culture, opening your mouth too wide is kind of vulgar; a little too intimate.  Women feel particularly sensitive about it, and will often cover their mouths when they laugh or eat.  Ice cream poses a special problem; licking is icky. 

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As with everything else, the ice cream was self-service, and so was the dessert bar.  Their English skills rivalled Daikichi.

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Keeping with the stuff-on-a-stick schtick, a chocolate fountain drenches your stabbed sweet morsel of choice in brown goo.  You can even dip french fries in it.  And finish the evening with coffee-flavoured Jello, which you garnish with non-dairy creamer from those little sealed cup-things.  Because your body is a temple. 

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My husband insisted I take the picture below, as proof that we nailed this whole skewer business.  We couldn't count the number of sticks demolished, because we got excellent value out of the ¥1000 bottomless beer.  And my beloved topped it off with an ice cream cone, which he licked, because he's a real man who laughs at all this prissy business of covering your mouth.  You could see his tongue. It was very erotic. 

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No doubt, you readers have noticed that I've been typing this slowly.  The memory of that dinner  (and the next, since we returned the following evening) has put me into a food fog and beer haze.  We got wasted, and waisted.  We left the restaurant for a stroll along Kobe waterfront, and onward to a highly necessary evening's sleep.  Barely made it.  Goodnight, and sayonara.  I gotta go burp. 

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Dude's Day

The Munich Eagle
A sign which hung outside the now-closed Munich Eagle, a leather bar in the Glockenbachviertel, Munich's gay neighbourhood.  Einlassrecht Vorbehalten means that the management reserves the right of admittance. 

It's a holiday here in Germany, a day when the nation truly earns its title of the fatherland

Officially, it's the feast of the Ascension, or Christi Himmelfahrt.  Though it reminds an English speaker of Jesus breaking wind, it literally means the Messiah's Ride to Heaven.  

By coincidence, it's also German Father's Day.  Why?  Ascension occurs in the spring, you see.  Farmers would take a day off tilling the fields to wander through them.  After determining the prospects for a good harvest, the men would wander back into the village together.  As we all know, any chance meeting of two or more men demands beer, and thus began the tradition of Männertag, or Men's Day.

German father's day celebrations have a slightly different flavour from the rest of the world.  For one thing, you don't have to be a father to join in.  Being a man is enough. 

As elsewhere, German mothers generally spend their special day in the bosom of their family, being pampered.  Here, men extract themselves from home and escape to the public square for some DIY pampering.  

Groups of men wander the streets and lanes, pulling a cart laden with kegs and bottles.  They favour beer, but schnapps is not unheard of.  Many use the occasion to raise money for sporting clubs, volunteer fire brigades, service or other associations. Though such clubs are open to both genders by law, they tend to be male hangouts.

The feeling reminds me of the volunteer fire department in Port Vue, Pennsylvania, Vigilant Hose Company #1, with its distinctive blue Mack fire truck.  My father and his brothers spent many hours playing pinochle on duty.  More than a fire brigade, it's a powerhouse of practical compassion.  I never saw them so relaxed and emotionally healthy as when they were united in this common purpose.  A common purpose that gave them license to form close bonds with each other. 

Männertag always gets me thinking.  On every International Woman's Day, those clamouring for an International Men's Day rightly get pilloried for false equivalency.  But a day set aside for male fellowship is a different matter.  

Being a man is often lonely and isolating.  We disproportionately choose solitary jobs, which reward self-reliance over collaboration.  We retreat within ourselves, ashamed to be close to our male friends. The burden of emotional support falls on our partners, often unreasonably.  

I know many men who say they find no safe space to talk about emotions. Männertag may, or may not, perform that function. Messy drunk dudes certainly don't look like they're tending to each other's emotional health.  But in a solid, practical way, perhaps they might be.  


Foodzilla

LONGREAD
Where is he gay, today?
Dotonbori, Osaka
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Some days, Facebook looks like a cookbook.  Posting your dinner to Instagram feels like the modern equivalent of saying grace. I often give my friends a serve over how eagerly they share their food on the social media. I get it, though. Food is more than fuel. It’s culture—especially in Japan.  

The entire nation obsesses about food.  What shall we eat?  Where shall we eat it?  What does it mean?  Locavores are not necessarily hipsters; long-standing tradition demands that when visiting a far-off city, one consumes its fare. If you haven’t eaten the local specialty, you haven’t really been there.  

In fact, Japanese food is more than culture.  Food is history, literature, geography, and pornography.  

No place more so than in Osaka. Notorious for rough manners and a most un-Japanese impatience, Osaka does nothing in moderation—including eat. 

So, on our first night in western Japan on a visit to my husband’s family, we took our appetites out for a spanking on the Dotonbori.  Osaka’s nightlife district, it caters to hungers of every kind.

Dotonboristas generally start at Shinsiabashi, where the covered shopping streets give way to this well-known Osaka scene. 

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Since 1935, the Glico Running Man hawked caramels so perfect, that a single piece could replenish you after running a marathon.  With modern sports drinks and energy bars, his pitch is no longer so relevant.  But like the Sanyo sign in Piccadilly Circus or the Skipping Girl sign in Melbourne, the icon proves indestructible.

Note, though, how Japanese folk wisdom deals with sweets.  They don’t give you a boost of energy, but rather restore it after it’s expended.  Feeling tired is noble; a state of grace that tells you you’ve achieved something. The standard way to fare a colleague well as he leaves the office is otsukare samadeshita, or “you must be tired”.  The Glico Running Man doesn’t look tired, though.  As a mascot—and every Japanese business needs one—the Running Man embodies the spirit of health and energy.

IMG_6547 (2)Not so that other icon of Osaka, a mechanical clown named Kuidaore Taro.  His first name recalls a Japanese word for which we have no direct translation in English; kuidaore is a weakness of character which comes from overindulgence in food. From 1950 to 2008, the beloved Taro stood outside a namesake restaurant, popular with sumo wrestlers who weakened their characters under his watchful, bespectacled eye. Since the restaurant closed, he now poses for pictures outside a shop in which he mainly sells souvenirs of himself. He must be tired. 

Turn left down the banks of the Yodoyogawa, and the buzz picks up.  You’ve arrived at peak Dotonbori, where restaurants shout unsubtly of the deliciousness within.  

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The most unsubtle is this giant crab, whose mechanical claws, legs and eyes flap about like he was just plucked from a tank. That’s Kani Doraku, built in 1960, molded from a then-newfangled material called fibreglass.  Many believe the sign to be haunted.  Just inside the front door, real crabs wait on death row.

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Sayonara, baby!

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of crab.  Crab is just too hard to eat.  My husband, on the other hand, will patiently wield that ice-pickish bit of cutlery which extracts every morsel of (supposedly) sweet, succulent meat from the crab's leg.  

This strikes me as the gustatory equivalent of performing a backward four-and-a-half somersault—beautiful to watch, but the degree of difficulty is far too high for a recreational diner.  For me, even a KFC thigh pushes the boundaries of Not Worth the Trouble.  Anything harder to eat than an oyster doesn’t deserve to see the inside of my stomach.  Crab needs to be  made into a ball, and fried on the end of a claw, Chinese-style.

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Speaking of hard-to-eat things fried into a ball, let’s talk takoyaki.  Small pieces of octopus tentacle hide in a spherical fritter of rice-flour, garnished with barbeque sauce and flakes of dry tuna, which you eat by stabbing with a stick. This dish can be quite tricky to make, and requires a deft hand to rotate the spheres 180 degrees in mid-fry.  These gents are clearly gifted.

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Tricky to make, and tricky to eat.  Takoyaki present the same problem as biting into a potato in a stew; the tentacle inside is much hotter than the outside, but there's no way of knowing how much hotter until you've bitten into one.  You'll clock plenty of people on the Dotonbori sucking air heavily through open mouths.  

Kani Doraku started a trend.  Giant, mutant food bursts through the front wall of almost every restaurant. Here’s a rather striking scallop, which might perch equally comfortably atop a Shell station. 

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Go Well

Those quaint models which sit outside restaurants in Japan—so that no diner will get a nasty surprise when a dish arrives—look puny in comparison. You'll find almost none along the Dotombori. Fittingly, one of the few places which needed to explain the perplexing nature of its dishes was the American Diner.

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Do they expect to sell actual food with this stuff?    Let me speak as a professional adman.  In the course of my career, I spent more intelligence than I care to admit learning the secrets of appetite appeal.  

Food is tricky. It needs to be photographed (or Photoshopped) with care.   You've got to get close, so you can see the texture.  It should be cut into a bite size, and angled to suggest that the bite is on its way to your mouth.  Appetising food must steam, splash or crumble.  

None of that happens in images of Dotombori food, nor in its unchewable acrylic models.  One wonders if the culture of lifeless, too-perfect plastic fakery has given the Japanese foodie low standards of edible allure. This Korean BBQ can make even steak look blah.  Let me repeat: steak.  

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A prominent chain of ramen restaurants gave up on the giant ingredient schtick. Since an enormous noodle would look as appetising as a radiator hose, Kinryu Ramen opted for a dragon—in deference, one assumes, to the Chinese origin of the dish. 

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But the dragon symbol works on another level, too.  The dragon is manly.  And real men who get real drunk need noodles. 

In Japan, ramen serves as the ultimate drinking food.  Water to rehydrate you, oil to line your stomach, and carbs to soak up the next beer. Kinryu has perfected the art of drunk-wrangling; they serve their customers on the street, where the lads can happily puke, smoke, and text their impatient, stood-up girlfriends.  

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These guys were so busy texting and talking they failed to notice their food was ready.
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At a slightly more upmarket ramen joint, drinkers enjoy a peaceful Tampopo moment

The Dotombori feels fast, loud and chaotic.  Precisely the sort of place you don't want to eat a dish that requires the chef's utmost concentration, lest it kill you.  That's the deadly puffer-fish of the genus Takifugu, or river pig—better known simply as fugu.  

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Puffery

On the Dotonbori, fast-fugu joints abound.  This McFugu restaurant is called Zuboraya, identified by its beloved fishy mascot Ronald McRespiratoryparalysis.  

Thrillseekers maintain fugu is best enjoyed as sashimi—thinly sliced raw pieces served with wasabi and soy—in such quantities that your lips feel dead, but your lungs still work.  Brave foodblogger Chinito found that his visit to Zuboraya left him with a working tongue, but shaky legs which recovered in time for dessert.  Personally, I prefer getting shaky legs via beer—the safe alternative

This Osaka institution has been numbing customers since 1920, so I guess their attrition rate remains acceptable. In the local Osaka dialect, zuboraya means loose, casual, or sloppy.  Never had a hankering to try the deadly delicacy, but if I did, I assure you it would be in a restaurant that looked nervous, uptight, and expensive.  

Sensing that I was a little overwhelmed by the food-circus, my husband led us into the most ancient part of the Dotombori.  The ruckus gave way to peaceful, metre-wide streets.  

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The bars and restaurants, though busy, were smaller and more exclusive. Such small restaurants in Japan often cater to a select, regular clientele; one really needs to be introduced by a standing patron to earn a full welcome  There's a word in Japanese for a first-time restaurant visitor: Ichigen.  The word smells of gauche. 

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A different Taro

Religious artefacts began to appear.  It suggested we were approaching a shrine. 

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As one might expect at a shrine, maneki neko (beckoning cats) promised good luck.  In this neighbourhood, the cats  had a bad case of kuidaore

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The maze of alleys opened to a small square, with an open pavilion at its centre.  This modest building is the Hosenji Shrine, which the Japan National Tourist Organisation describes as "newer", dating back to 1637.  (They should write New York apartment ads)     

Hosenji houses the god Fudomyoo, a fierce scrapper who can kick the ass of evil spirits with a few not-quite-kosher MMA moves.  If you need heavy duty good luck, you must splash him with water.  The many Dotombori waitstaff, chefs, barkeeps and tipsy revellers do this often; it's given him a coat of moss that recalls Oscar the Grouch.  As kids, didn't we all have days where we prayed for an intercession from Oscar the Grouch?

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One assumes that jittery diners can stop by for a pre-fugu pray.  Handily, Osaka's most exclusive fugu specialist sits just across the street. The Asakusa Hosenji restaurant presents a discreet front, exuding an air of calm that many diners would find comforting should—Fudomyoo forbid!—they dine themselves into the afterlife.   

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Mercifully, one needn't risk an agonising death to eat here.  They have a second, much safer specialty.  It's turtle.  

I suggested perhaps this might be a nice delicacy on which to feast (as long as the restaurant practiced strict separation of crockery).  I mused that some nice turtle sashimi might be just the ticket for two hungry gents.  

My husband sneered, in the way that spouses reserve for each other when one of them has committed a faux pas that is just a little too much in character.  After executing a monster eye-roll, the size of which I'd never seen before on a human being, he scolded me for knowing absolutely nothing about turtle!   Turtle, apparently, is far to gummy to eat raw; you need to soupify it for hours.  A pointless discussion about the merits of turtle for our evening meal followed, brought to a close by a look at the prices on the menu.  

Wasn't there someplace here in Osaka that made food really cheap and easy, for gaijin dolts like me, I asked?  

And with that question, my fine husband knew exactly where to go.  

What did we eat?  To find out, you'll have to wait for Part Two.  Hint: the picture at the top of this post is a clue. 


Ththththth!

SCAN0038

We were at our favourite Greek resturant in Munich, speaking English with our Greek waiter.

"There you are!" he said, as he presented my meal.

"Thank you," I replied.

He smiled.  "It's so nice to hear someone who can pronounce theta. Nobody in Germany can do it."

Of course, he didn't say Germany.  He said "Dzermany".

Flourishing a perfectly-voiced dental fricative, I added. "That's right." 

A gentleman from Barcelona piped up from the next table. "Other languages use theta, too" he corrected us. "Don't be thilly."

"Without doubt," I replied, " but nobody sticks the tip of his tongue up to his front teeth and blows like a Greek or an Englishman."  I basked in the word teeth.

A nearby German  became quite piqued.

"Sagen Sie mal", he asked, "sind Sie Französisch?" Tell me, are you French?

"Nein, ich bin Französisch nicht," came my reply.  No, I'm not French.

Of course, I didn't say ich.  I said "ick".

He sneered.  "Ha!  That was the worst ich I have ever heard.  Your nicht sounded like a chihuahua trying to shit." 

"Harumph" I grumbled, in my best English.

He chortled over his spanakopita.  "Oh, you Englishy types with your thinking and your theories and your thumbs!  But none of you can say ch!" 

I shouted to a Scotsman across the room, easily identified through his kilt and tam o'shanter.  "Hey Jock, wazzup!"

"Och, laddie..." he began.

"That's enough, thank you." I said, and turned back to the German chap.  "See?  English speakers can ach and och like the best of you." 

"You're completely wrong!" he replied, with a directness the world so admires in his countrymen.  "Any one can make a ch when it follows a nice rounded vowel like an ah or an oh.  But not when it follows a delicate sound like an ee or an ih that you actually have to make with your mouth and not your throat already."

He had a point.  One can sound consonants in different ways.  Think of the humble L.  It sounds a bit different when you use it to say line and when you use it to say hall.  This is known as a "light-L" and a "dark-L" respectively.  .

We English native speakers hear the two Ls as the same.  Polish—a fiendishly complex tongue—actually uses separate letters for the two sounds.   Natives of some other languages can struggle with one L, and not the other. 

My husband, whom you may recall is Japanese, has mastered the light-L.  I often hear him say a perfect let's take the lift, with none of the R/L confusion that afflicts speakers with an Asian mother tongue.  Not so the dark-L.  Should you meet him in a hotel, don't ask him where the ballroom is.  Nor should you discuss the movie star, Errol Flynn.  Nor require him to use the word uncontrollable.

Conversely, it's the light-ch that gives us English speakers trouble.  We end up saying ich—a common sound in German—as an ish or an ick.  It mainly occurs at the end of syllables.  Which gave me an idea. 

"OK, Mr. Gescheithosen.  You may think you're pretty smart, with your lippy th at the beginning of words.  So tell me.  What do you enjoy at the end of a hard day?"

"A bath," he replied. 

Except he didn't say bath.  He said "bus". 

"Perhaps you have a particularly nice ride home, so I'll allow that", I said.  "But here comes the clincher.  Say the word clothes...in one syllable!"

"Clozes." he fumed.

Others around him tried to help. "Clothis", interjected a lady from Berlin.  A gent from Schwabing tried "Clodzes".  A fine attempt came from a rural Rosenheimer with a "Clozzess".

Ha!  Our Greek waiter merrily celebrated by putting his tongue up to his incisors and letting out a big "Thththththththth!"   .

I joined him in a jolly "Ththththththththththth!", too.  Soon, all the English speakers in the room pitched in with a nice big, long "Thththththththththththth!".   Except for the Scotsman, who was arguing over his bill. 

 

This post is part of the Awful German Language Blog Hop on Young GermanyServus to you, Nicolette Stewart!


Celebrate My Fit of Pique!

Bite Me Black Dress

What does it take to unleash your indignation?  Eight years ago, a calendar and a couple of beers did it for me.

It came to my attention that some busybody proclaimed the second Monday in January as National Clean Off Your Desk Day.  This impertinence provoked me to declare the following day, January 13, The International Day to Bite Me.   

The busybody in question was one Anna Chase Moeller, daughter of Bill Chase, who co-founded the Chase's Calendar of Events in 1957.  Rumour has it that Anna helped in the family business, and in so doing, shared a desk with her father.  As is the case with pretty much all entrepreneurs, forward-thinkers, creative personalities, and productive people of every stripe, the desk was a mess.  In a snit, Anna declared National Clean Off Your Desk Day to humiliate her father's habits.  Once a year, Bill was forced to sacrifice a day of personal productivity to appease his daughter, who no doubt could have worked on the goddamn kitchen table if the sight of actual work upset her so goddamn much.  Neat-freaks have used it to shame us normal people ever since. 

In 2017, The International Day to Bite Me falls on a Friday.   By coincidence, the first Friday the 13th of every year is National Blame Someone Else Day.  (It's also National Rubber Duckie Day, but that's another story.)

On Friday, August 13 1982, a sleepy Michigan woman found that her alarm clock had failed to ring.  This set off a cascade of lateness and bad luck that hounded her throughout the day.  The National Blame Someone Else Day commemorates her string of excuses and apologies.  In truth, it should be National Blame Fate Day, since the mechanical failure likely had no human source.  Unless it was the woman herself who failed to set the alarm on August 12—in which case we should celebrate National Sorry, It's My Own Damned Fault Day.

Who was this unfortunate woman?  None other than a certain Mrs Anna Chase Moeller.  

Clearly, this amounts to an abuse of privilege. Anna's way to vent petty annoyances was to declare a day after them, because in the days before the internet, she was one of the few who could.  Well, two can play at that game now, eh?

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 08.58.53By the authority vested in me by Typepad blogging software, Deutschland über Elvis declares The International Day to Bite Me 2017 open for all.  The ritual Flipping of the Bird will take place across Germany and the rest of the world, perhaps flipped all the harder because it might occur over Friday drinks.  

Personally, I spread the message by keeping calm.  On the International Day to Bite Me graphics page, you'll find an #ID2BM Keep Calm message, created on the official Keep Calm and Carry On Merchandise Store.  I had it embroidered on a pillow, suitable for screaming into.