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Wednesday, August 16

Waving the White Curtain

Yesterday, I may have discovered what one of the curtains in restaurant doorways means. Of course, I have all of this information in one of the tens books I bought. Those books that are packed away with everything else we own and are now somewhere between DC and my future home here. For now, I just guess on what lies behind the curtains and hope for the best.

For lunch yesterday, I went in search of a Thai restaurant that I have been told by several people is so very good. The directions I have received tell me that it is two or three blocks before the train station on a side street to the left and on the second floor. I wandered up and down these streets yesterday looking for that second floor restaurant and run into yet the same problem I have had before. I don't read Japanese. After finding four different restaurants that could qualify as the Thai one based on the "specifics" I have been given, I finally just drew straws and headed up the stairs where I thought the writing looked rather Thai in font style. Not the best plan for future reference.

As I enter the restaurant, I notice I am the first one in for lunch this particular day. I am offered a seat wherever so I choose a spot at the bar. Not the drinking bar... just a line of seats that faces an open grill. Above the open grill are half-fileted fish that appear to be drying in the heat from below.

The waitress approaches me and brings tea. I kindly ask for water... "mizu, kudasai?" While a nice thought on the free tea, this isn't your southern variety. I've tasted a few that I couldn't even pretend to stomach. This one wasn't so bad but I really did need the water. The humidity of the day outside was actually leaving me quite parched.

I also asked for an English menu as what laid in front of me was written strictly in Japanese. No pictures. No plasty food in the window. No yen in real numbers... just a handwritten Japanese menu, nicely laminated, I note though. They didn't have anything else for me. Determined not to chicken out and make a run for the door, I ask her what they have. She doesn't understand me just like I don't understand her. But the man behind the grill shouts out and holds up a fish... a whole one... and tells me that it is the special of the day... barbequed. And I don't think he meant sauce, I think he meant barbeque as in slapping it on that open grill of which the fish above drip down on. He continues telling me what is on the menu, all sounding vaguely like fish. He is speaking in English but I just can't seem to get it. The only word I can honestly distinguish is tempura so I announce assuredly that I would like the tempura, kudasai.

Success! I have ordered a meal! Yes, I am not entirely sure what it will consist of or even how much it costs but what the hell? I ordered all by myself! What a big girl I am.

As I wait for my food, more people enter and take seats, some at the bar and some assume tables, which gives me the opportunity to look around at my surroundings as the staff is no longer staring me down. The place is nice at first glance but I notice as I look more closely that it is a very old-fashioned, almost country style. The walls are two parts: the top being a straw curtain and the bottom being a conbination of mud, concrete and straw, like you would expect on a building in the distant past of the Samurai to be made of. There are no pictures on the walls. It is actually a very serene escape to the country placed right in a highrise in the middle of downtown Yokosuka. I note that the only English anywhere is on a bottle called 'Triangle,' yet the description underneath it never tells you what the bottle may hold. I don't dare. (Even though I am making a dive for another peach drink tomorrow night!)

My tray of food is placed in front of me - eight different dishes all in beautiful assorted ceramic bowls. I recognize miso soup with what looks like toasted tofu in it and sip this first. I don't think you can go wrong with this soup as it is always consistently good. The tofu... well... mweh... I could pass. There is a bowl of soy and my plate of tempura. I take some eggplant tempura and dip it into the soy. I don't usually care for eggplant but it is surprisingly good. I think the lightness of the tempura batter really brings a different taste to it. (Tempura here is not greasy like how we batter our chicken back home. Fried chicken - yum.) A bowl of rice. A bowl of what looks like meat is in the middle. Bonus!, I think as I pick up a piece with my chopsticks. Not exactly what I expected. It turns out to be cold, cooked fish. I did attempt a few more bites of it but couldn't handle the chilled taste anymore and I gave in trying to finish it.

I have discovered a trick for eating things I don't necessarily care for. My ultimate fear is always that I will be considered impolite so I try everything. But once the gag reflexes kick in, I usually try to put the bite in my mouth, take a few bites being careful to keep the bite away from any tastebuds, act like I swallowed and then take a big drink of water to wash it down without tasting. The problem is... I always run out of water. And they don't refill automatically here. Of course that leaves me with the tea in this case. Of which I did use. It was better than cold fish!

There are also Japanese pickles which I do have quite the liking for. A dish of pineapples - anyone who knows me knows I could eat a whole pineapple all by my lonesome. The last dish to try is a little bowl of noodles. These are actually very good! Cold, with some sliced ham (?) and a soy taste almost. But herein lies my problem with these noodles. They are clear. There are a lot of sushi bars here that serve sushi with these little clear fish in it... that look exactly like these noodles. So even though I know I am eating noodles, my brain says tiny, clear bait and I just can't finish the dish. No amount of water will allow them to get past my crazy brain.

Back to the main course of the tempura. There is eggplant (as I mentioned), a half of a green pepper, two large shrimp (of which, now that I think about it, I do think I ate the heads of them as the batter was covering it so I didn't notice) and finally two more pieces that have tails like the shrimp... but they are gray tails. Could be just a different type of shrimp so I take a big bite. Fish! In my tempura! And, oh yeah, it was the whole thing. Strange to admit that I could eat a whole fish... and like it!... and yet have a problem with the noodle bait but that is what happened. I didn't eat the tail though. I am not that strange.

I ate all I could, avoiding what I just couldn't think about and washing down with water what I thought I should try and scarfing down the rice and miso. I did leave some on my plate which is slightly rude, but there were eight plates, remember!?

I'm no genius or anything. But I think it would be safe to say that white curtains equal fish. Fish on a grill. Fish in batter. Fish in a chilled dish. Maybe even fish in the miso. Fish, fish and mooore fish.

While I like my fish (tired of the word yet?), I prefer a more American approach to this food. You know, pan fried and minus the bones and innards. The next time I see a white curtain, I think I will keep walking. And I will surely know it ain't Thai!


JoLynn said...

You should be proud of yourself! That was daring and you are much more adventurous with eating than I am. Kudos!

Blog Boy said...

hey..nice escription and nice way to pen down your thoughts.I liked it.Hope to see more Posts from you...