Monday, January 30, 2006


When I lived in Japan, especially during the first two years or so when I couldn't really speak the language, I'd have the occasional run-in with a rude person. I think some Japanese people treated me badly because they figured if I was living in their country, maybe I should learn how to communicate more clearly. Some people were just.....scared. I mean, I don't want to assume something negative about anyone, and I can only make observations based on my personal experience. On more than one occasion, a customer at Tower Records (where I used to work) would come up behind me and say "sumimasen" (excuse me) and then scurry off when I'd turn around and show my gaijin face- my black hair probably tricked them into thinking I was Japanese. I am half-Japanese but I guess my caucasian side is a bit stronger in my facial features. Now I'm not saying that anyone would ever mistake me for Phoebe Cates, but I'm hardly Jabba The Hut's twin sister. I could only assume that my gaijinness was the culprit that made the customer turn away and run for the hills.

After I became fluent in spoken Japanese, life got much easier. My tolerance for such behavior also declined as the years wore on and I became more comfortable in my surroundings.

Now that I'm back in the US, in Los Angeles no less, that feeling of shame/embarrasment/frustration is a distant and faded memory....or so I thought.

Last Saturday, I decided that I wanted to make a Japanese feast for dinner and invited my good friends M and R who I met in Tokyo and now live here. I went to Mistuwa Market in downtown LA and gleefully pushed my mini cart (just like in Japan!) around the vast supermarket. I knew I wanted some sashimi, a salad or some sort and then check out what looked good that was on sale. But the one thing I was dead set on making was Buri Daikon. Buri is an older yellowtail, and buri daikon is buri no ara (head, tail, various leftover pieces/bones from the fish) stewed with daikon in a lightly sweetened soy broth.

I went to the fish section and looked through the rather large pile of packaged ara from various types of fish. Since the type of fish isn't written on the label, and each package contains different parts, I had to ask which was which. The fish monger was standing right near me so I asked politely what this type was, and he chirped "Sake!" (salmon). I chose another pack and asked again, to which he replied "HIRAME!" (Halibut). So finally I just asked him "Buri no ara arimasuka?" (do you have buri no ara?) to which he practically barked "BURI NAI!" (NO BURI!) and then turned and walked off. I decided to just skip the fish section for now and get my ground chicken over on the other side of the store. After about 10 minutes, I returned to the fish section and the same fish monger had brought out a cart full of new fish to put in the display. He walked away from the cart momentarily so I darted over to check it out- and sure enough, there was the hamachi no ara. Ok- so hamachi is not exactly buri but they are both yellowtail. Hamachi is simply younger. I grabbed the package and went halfway down the next aisle, from where I could see the grumpy fish monger being as polite and mild mannered as friggin Julie Andrews to a Japanese customer. I thought about going up to him and yelling something about customer service but I wasn't sure how large my Japanese Curse Word Vocabulary was (plus, I go there all the time and I wouldn't want to be 86'd) so I didn't.

By the time I was eating the Buri Daikon (or Hamachi Daikon if we want to get all techincal!) the anger had left me and my belly was stuffed with lots of Japanese goodies. I went a little overboard but I think it was my way of making up for my lack of Japanese cooking lately. In addition to the buri we had salmon and toro sashimi, shimesaba which my mom made for New Year's, toriniku no isobe-ni (chicken rolled in nori) which I got from this site, sunamono (wakame,cucumber & fake crab salad), ingen no goma-ae (green beans with sesame paste), mugi gohan (rice w/ barley), astuyaki tamago (egg block) and pickled zai-sai.

I know this sounds immature, but there was a part of me that wished the fish monger could see the meal- only to prove that I'm not some ugly gaijin- which is a weird thought considering we are in Los Angeles, NOT Japan! I guess I'll just take comfort in knowing that he was actually the one being an ugly gaijin.

ingen no goma-ae

astuyaki tamago


toriniku no isobe-ni
toro and sake sashimi


Buri Daikon

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Giant Squid said...

How rude! do you think the fish monger refused to sell you the fish you wanted on purpose? Shopping at the Japanese market seems to be quite a sneaky little business. You were right to insist though, your dinner looks fabolous, so colourful!

Santos said...

i've had problems with older japanese men in a couple of shops and restaurants in little tokyo. i guess they've had enough of non-japanese people thinking they know what they want and finding out they don't really want it. but it's still annoying, because i really do know what i want, dagnabbit!