Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Boar and the Whale

You know, I think I complain too much about having to live in Aomori. Sure, it’s cold and snowy, there are no young people or any semblance of youth culture, most of the local residents would rather not have anything to do with me and those who would often speak in unintelligible local dialects. But, like I said, I complain too much. I need to learn to appreciate what I have. For example, if I had come to Japan with a checklist of exotic animals that I wanted to eat (I didn’t), I would have already checked off a good portion of it. Everything from horse to whale sperm is eaten in Japan and chances are, you can find it in Aomori. Anyway, here’s a little story about how a local culinary enthusiast helped me check two more animals off of my hypothetical list.

So there’s this guy (in the off-white shirt, above) who pops into our office on a daily basis, chats up a few people and then leaves. Anyone who works in a Japanese office is probably familiar with this type of character who seemingly drops by just to socialize. Anyway, Charlie and I can’t figure out what, if any affiliation this guy has with the local government. He certainly doesn’t look like a bureaucrat and Charlie has theorized that he might be a farmer. At any rate, he usually comes by in the mornings, says something in Nambu-ben (the local dialect that seems to consist entirely of grunts and nonsensical mumbles) and then waddles out whence he came. Well, one day he came by and apparently invited our whole office over for lunch. Everyone seemed pretty excited by this prospect and Charlie and I were invited to tag along as well.

When we arrived, we were led into a wooden shack in his front yard. This rickety structure was literally like a home-made tool shed and all of the walls shook violently every time the wind blew. Despite the rather rustic setting, the man had prepared an abundance of hand-made sushi for us as well as soba noodles. Among the toppings we could choose from for the noodles were slices of roast goose. That’s right, that gout-inducing delicacy of monarchs past.

Anyway, I’ve since found out that the guy is a hunter and tends to invite people over after he has managed to kill a rare or delicious animal. So when he invited us over yesterday, I knew that we were in for a treat.

The day’s menu turned out to be soba noodles with a broth of wild boar. You heard me, wild fucking boar. The slices of boar looked and tasted much like pork but the broth had a really rich taste to it unlike any pork broth I’ve ever tasted. It was absolutely delicious.

To make soba, you start out with the noodles themselves, which are loaded into a net. While all soba noodles are made with buckwheat, different seasonings can be added to create different flavors. I’m pretty sure that the green ones are chasoba (flavored with green tea powder) but I’m not sure how the darker ones are made.

The noodles are then soaked in a pot of boiling water for a second or two and then strained before they are placed in a bowl. The broth (in this case, a wild boar broth) is then added on top of the noodles with a ladle.

Here’s the final product, topped with chopped spring onions, seaweed and chili powder for good measure.

And here’s the full spread. He had also made tofu, something like fried rice and some pickled vegetables to compliment the meal. Wait, what’s that meat?

Oh, that? That’s just whale sashimi. Now, you’re probably asking yourself how that’s possible when commercial whaling was banned internationally in 1982. Well, to put things quite simply, the Japanese government obtained a special permit to harvest a limited number of whales for “research purposes”. And this is the product of that delicious important research. Despite the fact that what I was eating was most likely an endangered species, I really didn’t think that it was all that great, primarily because it was still frozen and tasted just like shaved ice to me. I guess I just don’t have a well-trained enough pallet though because all of my co-workers couldn't stop raving about how delectable it was.

After we had all eaten our fill, we sat around and discussed other exotic meats such as raccoon and that old Momoishi favorite, dog. When I asked Tachibana-San if he thought that dog was tasty, he started scratching his head and mumbling nervously. “We eat dog,” answered the young man seated to the left of me, “but we don’t talk about it”. He then took a brief survey, asking “Who here has eaten dog?” and everyone in the shed raised their hands except for the two of us. The hunter eyed us inquisitively and then grunted to himself. One thing is certain: whoever said that there's no such thing as a free lunch clearly did not live in Oirase.


At 31.3.06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we have those guys too, but they never invite to a shed to eat boar or whales. i did buy a camera from one of them but he hasnt returned for his cash. i think it was `hot`. anyway, the boar stuff sounds great. good luck on eating dog. i love how they say, we eat it but dont talk about it.

pubjxlbo-in nice big bubbly marlboro style writing. wish i could go to pubjxlbo. looks awesome


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