During my short 2 weeks in Japan, I was able to go with my friend Hitomi who is a native Japanese to her hometown of Toyohashi, which is sort of close to Aichi/Nagoya. In the 4 days I spent with Hitomi, I had the opportunity to try some DELICIOUS authentic Japanese food… which I originally thought it was going to have to miss out on.
The meal that stands out most in my mind is actually so memorable because it is one of the most authentic meals I have had. Hitomi and her mother took us to their favorite sashimi place on Mikawa bay. It is a hole in the wall that literally serves like 10 people at most. Since it is located directly on the port, rest assured that the seafood is as fresh as it can get. As soon as we walked into the quaint hut, we were greeted as friends by the owner, a fisherman dressed in a red puffy jacket and thick rubber boots. Let us call him Red.
A glimpse of Red and the small hole in the wall restaurant.
His two young lady minions were dressed in similar attire but with the addition of woolen scarves. I envied their warmth. Winter was still afoot, and because we were right next to the ocean, the frigid salty sea air crept under my jacket. I was freezing and began to shiver. Luckily, they had a heater, and as I tried to warm up, I looked at my surroundings. I could tell then and there this was going to be an awesome experience, as Hitomi and her mother were regulars there. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a kitchen. If this is an eating establishment, where do they prepare the food? But then I realized that 95% of what they serve there is raw. The crammed space was filled with huge tanks that were home to a variety of shellfish, fish and baby turtles. The turtles were not for eating, the owner reassured us.
Hitomi’s mother ordered for us, as she was quite familiar with this place. I was dying from anticipation. Fishermen were outside rinsing their catches in large plastic bins. Seagulls swarmed overhead and the brave ones courageously tried to swoop in, only to find themselves shooed away by the fishermen. Red walked to one of the large tanks and deliberately scooped out the most gigantic clams I have ever seen. He then proceeded to the fish tank and skillfully caught a beautiful red snapper with ease. How much more authentic of an experience could you ask for? Authenticity to me is genuineness, and when applied to a meal, both the atmosphere and food should represent the culture it comes from. An authentic dining experience should warm not only your stomach, but also your soul. If you’ve ever had a home-cooked meal that made you smile, I think you know what I’m talking about. To me, the taste is not as indicative of the authenticity, but rather the way it was prepared, the ingredients, and the ambiance of the meal. This meal seems obviously authentic because I was served seafood directly from a tank on a port in Japan, but it is indeed possible for one to enjoy an authentic meal at a place not in the country its cuisine represents.
It didn’t take long for the food to arrive.
The hugest clams I've ever seen!
The first dish to grace us with its presence was the huge clams I had just witnessed being fished out of the tanks next to us. Grilled, doused with a shoyu/teriyaki sauce and emitting the most wonderful smell imaginable, they were gorgeous. The meat was of perfect chewiness and everybody was happily slurping on their clams when the fisherman presented his masterpiece.
The front fin of the tai (snapper) was still twitching when it came to the table. Though its flesh was carved out and sliced into perfectly thin slivers, the rest of the fish was still intact.
The gorgeous tai (snapper) sashimi
It was trying to swim away! That is how you know you are eating a freshly caught fish. Later on in the meal, the electrical current causing the frontal fin to pulsate moved to the tail, and the tail began to jerk in spasms. (I have a video of this event and will try to post it.) It knew that it was in danger and its flight response was kicking in. I had never eaten sashimi that was served with the rest of the fish. The presentation was phenomenal.
The most authentic sashimi ever. Enough said.
We gasped as Red delivered the next dish, a beautiful assortment of raw scallops, squid, shrimp and octopus. Sashimi at its finest. Red smiled as we praised him for the quality of the meal. Because it requires little to no ingredients, sashimi is the ultimate test of a restaurant’s freshness and value. We were all incredibly satisfied and despite the chilly air, I felt extraordinarily warm and happy.
I will never forget Red and my dining experience here. ごちそうさまでした！