Five Unusual Servings I’ve Encountered in Japan

Sashimi

Sashimi (Raw Fish) has probably been eaten by lots of cultures other than Asian but, it’s more popular in Japan than anywhere I’ve ever been. In fact, now that I’ve become accustomed to eating fresh Maguro (Tuna) I can’t understand how anyone can eat that grey stuff called Tuna out of a can.

There is a type of raw fish I’ve seen being eaten while still alive. This was in an expensive sushi bar on the island of Kyushu. The size of a small child’s hand, the fish is filleted by the sushi chef so you can pick up slices with your chopsticks. The frame of its body is still intact and the head and tail are still moving while it is being consumed. Named Iki Zukuri, it’s one dish I’m in no hurry to try.

Beef Sashimi

Beef Sashimi (Gyu-sashi) is simply the same beef you get when you order a hamburger. It doesn’t take as long to prepare. Just cut fresh beef into extremely thin slices with a sharp knife and it’s ready to serve. Served with a bowl of soy sauce and wasabi for dipping, it’s probably close to a really rare prime rib with horseradish, the difference being, no oven is required.

Goat Sashimi

Goat Sashimi (Hija-sashi) in Okinawa is considered a delicacy. Folks from mainland Japan would probably have much the same reaction to eating raw goat as most Westerners. It is prepared in the same fashion as the cow above. This is one I can only pretend I’m eating, just to be sociable. Often served at a house-warming party or company picnic, the goat is brought to the party alive and butchered at the start of the event. From my observations among the locals it seems about evenly divided, either you love or hate raw goat meat. With plenty of spices and soy sauce to disguise the strong flavor, it’s manageable but, I’d never go somewhere I had to pay for the stuff.

Horse Sashimi

Yes, they eat horses here! Horse Sashimi (Ba-sashi) is another delicacy in Japan. Actually, I’ve been served thinly sliced horse and thought I’d gotten an expensive cut of beef. Once told what it really was, being an American and a horse lover, I politely declined a second helping. Americans don’t eat horses, we ride them.

Red Dog

This is my dog. Walking on the beach one day, with my red dog and his brother, a black dog, a local fisherman pointed at the red dog and said “Oishii” (delicious). I’d never heard of anyone eating dog in Okinawa so, asked around about it. One of my friends related how his wife, as a child, had Asthma. Her father brought home a little red puppy. She thought it was going to be her pet. That evening Papa boiled the dog for supper. It cured her Asthma.

Dog meat isn’t something you’d see sold anywhere in Japan and to the best of my knowledge it is probably against the law to butcher and sell dog meat.

An animal that you call a pet could be considered food in another culture.

Have you encountered any visitors surprised at what’s on the menu in your country?

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About the author

Michael Lynch
Mike is a freelance photographer and writer who has been living in Okinawa, Japan for over 30 years.
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15 Comments

  • Interesting post, Mike. In reply to your question, many visitors (and our American friends here too) can’t get their heads round the fact that we, in Argentina, eat (and love!) offal. Thymus glands, intestines, udder (not my favourite), kidneys and so on grilled to perfection are indeed a treat :)

  • Not so many surprises from our international guests to what we eat in US, although on a food related note my Brazilian sister-in-law thought it hysterical that I called my son “pumpkin”

    My husband (from Brazil) is good about trying anything that’s local when he travels. I on the other hand have been known to claim vegetarianism when in doubt.

    In fact “Soba Tofu” works in Japanese, even if you don’t speak Japanese. Although I can’t vouch for what was in the broth!

    On a final note, my husband is always impressed with the number of bunnies in our neighborhood in Chicago. Every time he sees one he comes up with another recipe for how it would be caught and cooked in Brazil.

  • Loved the post, Mike. For most Indians, eating non-vegetarian food is a big leap in itself. But then it is not uniform. People of Bengal are avid fish eaters while in the North-east India, particularly Nagaland and Mizoram, dogs are a delicacy. I have not come across instances of raw and very rare consumption, though.

  • Cultureguru, my husband does that too! He has family in Italy, where eating rabbits is also quite common. I grew up in the UK and had a rabbit as a pet, so I’m less keen on the idea. People do eat rabbit in the UK, but it’s quite rare.

  • Wow, great responses here! At first I was a bit worried about posting some of these critters. Now, I can see the potential for a book on the subject.

  • Interesting the amount of raw food here. I guess that is an indication for their faith in it’s good quality though.

    I think every culture has it’s questionable food. In the UK jellied eels and black pudding (congealed blood) are the ones that come to mind :-)

  • AdventureRob,
    Whoa, the eels, maybe; black pudding I think I’d pass on that one.
    Seriously, one of our food gurus should consider a book on this topic.

  • Great post!

    Out of the ones listed, I’ve only tried fish and horse sashimi. Both were delicious, but I had no clue about what basashi actually was until after I had eaten lots of it, and my Japanese friends told me.

    I’m from Norway, and tourists who come here usually react when they see whole sheep’s head (boiled) and cod tounges (fried) on the menu.

  • I love seafood sashimi. Have never tried the others. Dog is supposedly illegal to eat in Korea, but there are restaurants that specialize in it, and Koreans eat it. Dog doesn’t interest me to eat.

  • Being a vegetarian none of this is for me, but it’s very interesting to read about such exotic foods.

  • Nancie and Inka,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. There are definitely some unusual foods in the world’s different cultures, even for vegetarians.
    Stand-by for when I gather enough photos to do a post on some of the unusual vegetables and plants I’ve seen consumed in my part of the world.

    Cheers,
    Mike

  • jamesdelnero@gmail.com

    In the past Okinawans eat dog meat and cat meat only like medicine according with Chinese medicine ?

  • James,
    Possibly a Chinese remedy. Also, maybe after the war, a necessity.

  • james

    Today on Okinawa nobody eats it right?

  • James,
    As far as I know, that’s correct.