I have done some horrifying things in pursuit of deliciousness. Horrifying. I've dug elbow-deep into a fresh, steaming pile of pig guts to hand-harvest intestines for sausage casing. I've toted a freezer bag of squirrel carcasses across multiple state lines, scooped smoked brain from a cow skull into my mouth and had it written into my wedding vows that creepy little jars of fermenting food "projects" would be tolerated, if not joyfully accepted.
Who'd have thought I'd be felled by a fruit?
Being waited on hand and foot now comes at an affordable price in Tokyo. A new butler-themed cafe in the Japanese capital is proving a hit with young females in search for a relaxing afternoon, an English lesson and just as importantly the chance to interact with friendly foreign men.
Shibuya's "Butler Cafe" in the heart of the city has surroundings that bring to mind a Victorian grandmother’s sitting room, with classical music, ample accents of lace and more hearts and roses adorning the furniture than can possibly be counted.
A chopstick making company has whittled down broken baseball bats so sushi can be shoveled with a swing.
Hyozaemon specializes in traditional hand-crafted eating utensils and in 2000 introduced their "kattobashi" chopsticks. The name is a play on words combining the Japanese word for chopsticks, "hashi," with a familiar chant heard at Japanese baseball games.
About 20,000 bats, used and abused by pro and amateur players, turn up at Hyozaemon's workshop each year. So it's a good bet the bats of Godzilla himself, Hideki Matsui, in his pre-Major League Baseball days, will have ended up on a Japanese dining table at some point over the years.
Some sushi lovers are extending their passion for Japanese cuisine into the world of arts and crafts. From clothing to candles and jewelry to children's toys, rice rolls and sashimi are inspiring all manner of crafty marvels.
Giulia Negro, a 24-year-old Italian, fell in love with sushi years before she tasted it. “I love sushi’s elegant shape and vibrant color. I decided to explore making bracelets,” she said.
Sarah Worley lived in Japan, but only when she returned to her native United States, did she find sushi that she had never seen in Japan - uramaki with rice outside the seaweed. Now, her handmade "inside-out" sushi earrings seem to have almost as many fans as the rolls themselves.
During a Japanese tea ceremony, remember to slurp the last drops of tea from the bowl.
Among all the etiquette and quietude of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the slurping might seen out place, but it’s a more than acceptable way of saying thank you.
“Nosily drinking the last of the tea means that the guest has enjoyed it,” says Shirai Yayoi, a tea master for over 50 years.
Over that period she has perfected all the elements of “chado” that when translate to English is closer to “tea-ism” than tea ceremony. It’s more apt, too, as all the training of a tea master and the rituals of the ceremony date back to Japan’s medieval samurai society and are underpinned by four principles from Zen Buddhism: harmony, tranquility, respect and purity.
Ask five Tokyoites to name the best sushi restaurants in the city, and you’re likely to get five different answers - the old "how long is a piece of string?" quandary.
That's because the sushi experience is a very personal one that can include not only raw seafood, but also things like unmatched service, chefs whose skills were honed by years of apprenticeship, an atmosphere that screams “traditional Japan” and, in many cases, a whopping bill. Because of all this, any one traveler’s favorite sushi experience is going to largely depend on budget, interests and previous experience with the cuisine.
Gung hay fat choy! In case you're looking for last minute advice on how to welcome the Year of the Dragon, we've rounded up our Chinese New Year-related coverage for all your celebrating needs.
But first, a quick explainer from Chef Chris Yeo on the ancient food traditions associated with the Lunar New Year.
"Chinese New Year is a special time of year for many. 'Chi fan le mei you?' or 'Have you eaten yet?' is the most common greeting heard during the celebration of the Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese New Year throughout the West. Many of the traditions of Chinese New Year center around food either being cooked or eaten. To people who trace their roots back to China, the most important date in the lunar calendar is Chinese New Year – it’s a traditional time for feasting with family and friends that dates back thousands of years.
As a child, Ashley Richards found ramen noodles frustrating to eat. She had to wait for them to cook, wait longer for them to cool, and once they were ready, "it took so much effort to get the long noodles into my mouth without making a mess."
Eating them uncooked was much easier. So after stomping on the cellophane to break up the noodles, that’s how she enjoyed her ramen - straight from the package. She’s 25 years old now, and still prefers it her ramen raw.
"Crunch it up in the package, pour into a bowl, and sprinkle with oriental flavoring," Richards says. "Yum!"
Much has been written about the relationship between the French and their cuisine, but one could also argue that the people of Japan take their love for food a step - or several galloping strides - further. Where else is it common to embark on weekend trips, the sole purpose of which is to sample several varieties of a single dish?
Modern Japanese kyodo ryori, or regional cuisine, is a tourist attraction all of its own, with a signature dish for nearly every major city.