On Horse Meat Sashimi

It finally happened. We ordered the horse sashimi.

“You want what?” said the waiter, unsure.

“Horse meat,” I slurred in Chinese, that last bottle of sake harming my already-poor pronunciation. “Raw horse meat.”

The waiter looked at WooLand, who wasn’t listening, and then at me, and he finally shrugged and wrote it down. Clearly this wasn’t a dish foreigners often ordered.

马肉刺身 (Mǎròu cìshēn) is apparently a delicacy in Japan, and I’d long been dreaming of ordering it here. It’s served up sliced thin like carpaccio, with mashed ginger and scallions and onions and soy sauce. There, it’s called basashi (馬刺し).

Back home in the States, however, it’s completely illegal. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senator, has been working with The Humane Society to make sure no-one enjoys a nice plate of mare. His latest bill, pushing it further, will see that no more “children’s ponies are inhumanely transported and slaughtered, their meat shipped to places like France, Italy, and Japan for human consumption.”

Good thing I wasn’t in France, Italy or Japan!

Here in Beijing, the plate arrived an hour later, the steed gorgeously laid out with thin slices of garlic riding it like little sashimi cowboys.

“No horsin’ around here,” WooLand cried, as she carefully lifted a slice. It was a full, deep red. This is the color of meat. In Japan, the meat is called Sakura (桜), or Sakura Meat (桜肉), because it reminds people of cherry blossoms.

It was also chewy. And dripping, almost as if it had been injected with water.

“All the farmers do this,” my friend Little Yellow had told me, a few days earlier. “They inject their animals with water, so they can sell the meat for more money.” Steaks from our local grocery are heavy, but so bloated they can be ripped apart with your hands.

“I don’t think this is done to horse meat, though,” she told me later. “Beef, and pork, but not horse.”

This sliced stallion maybe was a frozen ride. That hour we waited, an hour of defrosting. I didn’t get the feeling this was a dish many people ordered.

We rolled it up tight around the garlic and scallions, and dipped it in soy sauce. Wrapped in so many flavors, like a burrito, the meat was reduced to a delivery mechanism. A thick and chewy tortilla of spicy glory. Maybe Lindsey has it right. Perhaps this is an inhumane use of a healthy children’s pony.

Next time I’ll try the donkey, and see if that’s any better.

Izaka-Ya, 4 Gongti Beilu (across from Rock and Roll Club, in the alley behind the Bookworm), Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
北京朝阳区工体北路4号

Those Creepy Japanese Videos, Finally Explained

If you’ve been wondering about the creepy Japanese videos I’ve been posting — videos of girls staring blankly at the camera for a minute, then uttering a single short phrase — I’m finally ready to offer an explanation.
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Soy Sauce Kit Kats (and other awesome flavors)

I was a little confused about the Tokyo airport when I flew through there a few weeks ago. It seemed so… rundown. Ceiling tiles missing, chairs blocking entrances, stores closed. And then I saw this sign. Uh-oh. What had I missed during my media blockout?

Turns out the third reactor was about to go, so I did what any slightly-nervous very-jetlagged consumer might do. I bought Kit Kats. Lots of them.

You probably already know that Kit Kats are the lucky treat in Japan. The local name for them, kitto katto, sounds an awful lot like the pre-exam expression of goodwill, “kitto katsu,” which means “win without fail.” (Sweep the leg, Johnny!) So they’ve got a lot of them. Before every exam, everyone gives out kit kats. Woo tells me there are 80 200 different flavors.

Sadly, Narita only had six. But I bought them all. Continue reading “Soy Sauce Kit Kats (and other awesome flavors)”

And we’re back…

Sorry for the silence. China got wise to the VPN, and issues had to be resolved.  But we’re back.  Hopefully for a while, at least.

While we pop the bottles of silkworm baijiu and seahorse bourbon, here’s a photo from last night’s dinner at Beijing’s newest maid cafe.  (Sure, Japan had sexy 19th century French maids a decade ago, but in China? Well, they’re still an untapped welcome trend.)

The Most Divine Piece of Sushi

This was something I’ve never seen before. I found it in Hakone, a small mountain town. (Across the road from 7-11. Sliding slat door, with no windows.) Maybe the roll was called Namaji Rasu, and maybe it’s called Shirasu. But either way, it was incredible, deliciously sweet, and so unbelievably weird.

Tiny fishies, with big eyes, piled into a rolled piece of nigiri. So entirely straight-from-Star-Wars, and so one-of-a-kind. The chef handed it to me unexpectedly, after he discovered I wasn’t a Russian.

Old Pirate Ships in Old Japan

After the insanity of Tokyo, I really needed a break. So, on the advice of a teenage stranger at a sushi bar, I bought a 3-day pass to Hakone.  And what a break it is. A mountain town, there’s almost nothing to do here. No madness, no crowds, and certainly no stress. Just groups of old ladies in hats, taking a midweek break from the city.

But there is a pirate ship.

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Sucking on Sour: The Miracle Berry aka Miracle Fruit

Tokyo Mission #2: Miracle Fruit!

I’d heard about Miracle Fruit at a hipster science conference in New York a few years ago, and had dreams of them ever since. History: in the 1700s, an explorer moved into a West African village. Everything was great, except the food — it was horrible! Sour, disgusting, absolutely inedible! After a few days in the village, though, he realized the locals were all sucking on berries before eating. He joined in, and suddenly, this vile meal became glorious! So sweet, so tasty — absolutely divine! Turns out this berry makes everything sour taste sweet!

In America, though, it’s banned. Sugar and confection lobbyists have kept the berry outlawed, leaving Japan to trailblaze with a handful of Berry shops. And, after a few hours of looking, I finally found one.

Hidden on the top floor of Ikebukoro’s Sun City Mall, in the back of the terrible Namjatown Theme Park, there’s a restaurant: The Miracle Fruit Cafe. For $2.50, they’ll sell you one berry.

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Tokyo’s Creepy Parasite Museum

You might think it a bad idea to eat all these weird and raw meats — like diaphram. I did, too. So I trolled the streets of Tokyo until I found the world’s only Parasite Museum. Sadly, everything was written in Japanese, and I couldn’t find a single employee to translate. Not one. Just an unlocked door, and room after room of parasites, and no people. (Even the gift-shop was empty… parasite key-chains (real parasites!) stood waiting to be sold, but I left them there.)

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Eating Diaphram in Tokyo

Another of Tokyo’s “best meal” contenders was Toraji Param, a Korean hormone restaurant on the 500-something-th floor of some fancy Tokyo building. As the elevator flew up the 5000 flights, my ears popped. At our table, floor-to-ceiling windows showed off all of Tokyo. It was jaw-dropping, to put it mildly.

And then the food came. And my jaw dropped again.

Before this meal, I’d never heard of “hormone restaurants,” but it’s a new Tokyo fad where every part of the animal is offered on the menu. You want to try delicate, thinly-sliced, cow’s diaphram? We got it! And it was TDF. So amazingly tasty.

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Hayao Miyazaki’s Breathtakingly Awesome Ghibli Museum, Tokyo

To be honest, I came to Tokyo for only three reasons. Each had been percolating in my mind, independently, for years. Each seemed to be something I needed to do. Each of these demanded a pilgrimage. And each of these would be difficult.

I first read about The Ghibli Museum in a New Yorker profile on Hayao Miyazaki, one of my favorite filmmakers. A legend in Japan, he’s created a number of gorgeous, meditative animated masterpieces — Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo are my three favorites. They’re slow, weird, dark, and scary. Most of all, they’re films about awe. Awe for the protagonists, and for the audience as well. The Ghibli Museum is his own tribute to himself.

Like any good pilgrimage, it wasn’t an easy journey. Tickets could only be bought, in advance, from Japanese-language ATMs in Lawson’s Convenience Stores. It took an hour to find a Lawson’s. And then thirty minutes to work out how to buy a ticket. Then another hour to get to the suburb.
I needed a break. I needed sustenance. I needed some kobe beef. Continue reading “Hayao Miyazaki’s Breathtakingly Awesome Ghibli Museum, Tokyo”

The Insane Monkey Bar in Tokyo

I came to Tokyo for three pilgrimages. The first, a trip to Miyazaki’s Ghibli Museum, left my cheeks wet with tears. The second, lunch at a Miracle Fruit Cafe, had me giggling aloud, the juice from an inedible umeboshi plum running down my chin. And the third? It was to be dinner at an izakaya tavern, waited on by monkeys.

Monkeys. Not guys in monkey suits, or hirsute fellows, but real, honest-to-xxx monkeys. This was probably a PETA nightmare, but monkeys are totally awesome!!!

DDLBiz Christmas Series Children Happy Birthday Party Smokeless Chinese Zodiac Candle Charming Gifts (Monkey) (Kitchen)


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But instead of being in “North Tokyo,” which I’d heard from the Internet rumors, it was far north of Tokyo. The “short train ride” turned out to be two hours from Shinjuku. And from there, another two hours of walking through ramshackle neighborhoods, fields, along highways. I carried a useless map, and asked directions every ten blocks, miming a monkey carrying a tray of sake to help explain what I was searching for. Ominous clouds hovered overhead, threatening rain, but I kept pushing on.

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