Wednesday, 7 October 2009

PostHeaderIcon Bad Japan: Oishii

美味しい : Supa Derishasu

This is my gyoza. It IS delicious.

Greetings everyone. I've been finding it difficult trying to find something to write about recently. I don't feel as comfortable going on my usual rants about life because it turns out everyone I know reads this blog and then talks about it in... reality. Indeed, one of my friends asked me the question "Are you happy over there? You sound miserable when I read your blog." This came as a surprise because I thought I was being all dry and witty. I could almost imagine myself chain smoking on stage with a bottle of wine and giving an amusing yet concise social analysis of Japanese society. I failed to steer away from this opinion when I replied with "It's alright" and so the impression that I detest my life and I am only driven every morning by my hatred of Japanese people continues. This is far from the case and I've already deleted three drafts praising Japanese people in an attempt to convince everyone that I am not a miserable naysayer. However... I do not feel comfortable writing positive things... especially about Japan. I'll save that for optimistic Americans eyeing up a cheeky book deal about finding peace and bollocks in the land of the rising sun. Furthermore... I have found that I have no desire to write anything when I am happy and content. So there you go.

Nevertheless, I was handed a golden nugget of material yesterday when I was invited to make "pizza" with Japanese people in my town. It must be said that this is one of the rare times I have been invited to anything that didn't involve me giving up 7 hours on a Sunday. I was quite excited to be going along actually even though the schoolchildren I was expecting were replaced by housewives. I have nothing against them exactly... it's just... they're such irritating busy bodies who are always clogging up MY supermarket when I just want beer and crisps.

Anyway, things went along as I had anticipated. The guy teaching everyone was an old Japanese man who thought he was better than he was. He proved this by wearing his whole chef gear shebang that he probably ordered off the Internet. The housewives listened to him with great respect and then scuttled about doing things in an irritating manner. The ingredients were an embarrassment to anyone who had ever ventured out of the prefecture yet everyone went "ooohhh" and "aaaahhh" and got excited over the fact that the tomatoes were from my town. The pizza itself was made from rice flour which was the reason for the cooking class and my presence. I guess the prefecture is trying to promote the use of local produce or something.

The pizza base was fair enough but the sauce consisted of a poor man's tomato sauce out of a bottle. The toppings consisted of red pepper (no complaints), eggplant and some awful Japanese pickle that I always avoid. I was coping well until I was told that I wasn't spreading the tomato sauce on my base correctly by a housewife. I bit my tongue because she's an idiot and doesn't know any better. That's right old Japanese lady... you spread your tomato sauce on your rice pizza... whilst I'll pretend my first job wasn't making pizza or how I would make a pizza from scratch about once every two weeks. Oh yep... you must be right... I'm so sorry for not spreading my sauce right to the edge.... how stupid of me. Let us cover our delicacies with about five shavings of fake cheese and take them over to sensei for approval. I was just about surviving this pathetic excuse for a cooking lesson until I saw a woman drown my pizza in mayonnaise. She just wouldn't stop squeezing the bottle. I was watching her determined face as she unleashed MSG hell all over my hard work. The final step of this cultural-cuisine exchange was loading the mini-pizzas into the oven... of course they don't have ovens in Japan so we put them in a microwave. The whole lesson reminded me more of an advert for "Your Child's First Cooking Set" that you'd give your 7 year old child for Christmas. You know... those fake oven with the light bulbs.

However, the Japanese in the room didn't see anything wrong with this. The sensei had a chef's hat on after all and we were using very famous Japanese pickle as a topping. Once the the pizzas were cooked we all sat around the table getting ready to feast. The pizzas themselves were not totally vile but were only as good as you'd expect from such a woeful process. Still, the usual Japanese approach to eating then took place. This consists of everyone slurring out the word "Oishii So" in a salivating display of lust that can only be compared to that of a heroin addict getting their methadone. It translates as "That looks delicious". Then they all agree that it is indeed "Oishii" before they have even tasted it. The moment that mayonnaise soaked rice pizza touched their lips they all burst into an agreeable hum of delight. Then the focus of attention was on me as I eyed up my eggplant ridden dough and swallowed as I tried to pretend the mayonnaise was cheese. "Oishii?" they asked me as I nodded and replied "Oishii" without a second thought as I have been conditioned to do so for two years.

I'm not exactly sure what my main argument in this rant was. I only hate Japanese housewives a little bit. I don't exactly hate Japanese people enjoying food but my problem is that they are often dirty liars. I have never heard a Japanese person try/eat something and reply with anything other than oishii. This includes a reporter at a restaurant who was eating some sort of octopus brain. She was definitely trying to respond with approval but her face soon gave way to a startled realisation that she was about to vomit on live television. I'm sure they are all just trying to be as polite as possible but in doing so they have completely removed all meaning in one of their most common words. Therefore, if someone cooks me something in Japan and it is exceptionally good then I almost need to plead with them to understand that I am loving their cooking.

Of course, my relationship with oishii was once completely different. I first encountered her in my first few weeks in Japan. It was an instant way to communicate with people at a work party. I would wheel it out for every occasion and bask in the glory of cultural integration and my new found language abilities. However, time hasn't been too kind. Now, every time I turn on the television I am met by some fake Japanese chef who boasts that he once went to Paris. Of course... he just went on a package holiday but he's sure this is how you make a meal he had once. So he'll throw some garlic into a croissant and add some pickles to give it a unique Japanese flavour. Then the dim lassies who host the show will repeat the process of respect and awe and the oishii cycle will complete its course whilst hundreds of years of French cuisine has just been Nankinged.

My theory about the origins of oishii are as follows. These days the western world likes to go to pretentious sushi restaurants to try and out-impress their friends. (If you're one of them and reading this then you can score bonus points by saying oishii so to the Chinese chef.) Of course, Japanese food is popular for good reasons; it's tasty, healthy and a lot of effort does go into the presentation. Indeed, I like a lot of Japanese food and often make a lot myself. However, people tend to forget that the life of meat, fish, noodles and even rice was far from common for most Japanese people before the war. Even the old women who I teach tell me how their meals used to consist of pickles, roots and miso soup. If anyone has ever had a traditional Japanese meal then they'll realise that all of this is in the small side dishes that you leave because they taste like the bitter tears of failure. The reason that this oishii process developed was because everyone secretly knew that their food was awful. The way to cope with this was to lie to themselves that everything they had was delicious.

Indeed, I don't actually believe my point because they were probably working themselves to death and were near, constant starvation. Still, you've got to feel sorry for the old Japanese. Even the poorest of peasants in Europe could at least experience the delights of meat, bread and beer. Ahhh look at me stand on my Eurocentric platform and patronise the entire Japanese race throughout the whole of history. I cannot beat this.


Mike said...

'Nanking' is the best new verb of this year, definitely.

Ahoy hoy said...

I put it in google there and I'm the first result after to redirects to Wikipedia. I've beaten the internets.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.