Being a culturally sensitive individual, I don’t want to say that Japanese food is disgusting. The world is a better place because of sushi, and I cannot think of a food better than ishi yaki imo (a sweet potato you can buy from street vendors) for a cool autumn evening. That said, there are traditional Japanese foods that won’t become appreciated by the majority of the non-Japanese population. These are foods that the Japanese are sure that non-Japanese people won’t like. If you like these foods, you pass the Japanese food test and truly appreciate the culinary aspect of Japan. If you think that they are disgusting, well, you’re not alone.
One of these foods is natto. As an assistant teacher in Japan, I introduced myself to over one hundred different classes. And in every single one, someone would ask me if I liked natto. What is natto? Natto is a traditional Japanese food made of soybeans. It’s quite nutritious and with rice is considered a staple breakfast food.
Why is natto a food that is disliked by so many foreigners? Well, I’ve had natto, and didn’t think it tasted bad. It’s not the taste that turns so many off of natto, it’s the texture. Natto is a stringy and slimy mess. It also has a strong smell. If you can get past the texture and the smell, you’ll find that natto has a savory and salty flavor that isn’t as strong as the smell suggests.
Another traditional Japanese food that many non-Japanese people avoid is umeboshi. Umeboshi is pickled ume. It’s small, round, red, and wrinkly. You’ll often see umeboshi with rice. Umeboshi are salty and extremely sour. If you decide to try umeboshi, be prepared for its strong taste. Foreigners in Japan might be given an umeboshi by a mischievous youth and not be ready for the extreme sourness.
A popular delicacy in southern Japan is horse sashimi. Although sashimi usually refers to raw fish, raw red meat is also eaten. Horse sashimi is not a common food. Instead, it is a more expensive delicacy that might be served at a party. For many Westerners, horse is one meat where they draw the line. If you eat horse sashimi, you pass another food test.
Fortunately for many non-Japanese, other traditional Japanese foods are more appealing to the masses. Many people enjoy tempura, teriyaki, soba, and udon. Whether or not you pass the Japanese food test, you can enjoy some aspect of Japanese cuisine.