Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cheese Tara and Other Joys

This is cheese tara.  I bought this particular pack from the 7-11 down the street.  I'm sure there will be an entire blog post dedicated to the wonders of a Japanese convenience store, but this is not that particular post. So, I will leave my description of convenience stores to this, for now: they are everywhere and you can buy anything at them.  Today, however, I was in the mood for some Mitsuya Cider (soda that tastes vaguely of pears and vanilla) and some delicious cheese tara.  What is cheese tara, one might ask.  Until 10 minutes ago, I would not have answered your question correctly.  The Japanese have developed a recent culinary obsession with cheese.  Not real cheese, mind you, but the fake kind, in the vein of kraft singles and string cheese.  Often cheese snacks are eaten with beer or sake, similar to pub mix or cocktail peanuts in the States.  I have been eating these snacks since I arrived, but particularly enjoyed the variety I now know to be cheese tara.  To me, they looked like camembert or brie sliced very thin, with the papery rind on the top and bottom.  I love cheese, probably a little too much for waistline's sake, but we all have our guilty pleasures.  Combined with the fact that my significant other hates cheese in almost all its forms (gasps in disgust are welcome here), eating cheese is a wonderful event that I can selfishly enjoy without the need to share it with anyone.  So, when "Japanese cheese" was brought to my attention, I simply had to try it.
 My love affair with cheese tara began. However, I couldn't help but wonder why the cheese tasted so different from any cheese I had before.  There was certainly a processed quality about it, but that I knew as familiar.  No, there was something strange in this taste.  Something I had tasted before, but never in cheese... was it nutty... no... was it possibly the richness of truffles I was tasting... no, and if it was I was getting a bargain, these packs only cost 180 yen... I let the unknown taste pass from my thoughts and contently enjoyed eating my cheese.  Today, I bought my pack of cheese tara and a soda, and began to inspect the label.  I was so happy that I had progressed in Japanese enough to be able to read the Japanese "cheezu" in katakana script.  The next symbol (tara) was in kanji, which I probably will never be able to read. But it had the hirigana of "tara" above it to help out those of us who don't read kanji (Thank you 7-11!).  I wondered what tara meant.  It was a Japanese words, as it was in hirigana and it was an old enough word to have a kanji of its own.  I thought, maybe it means snack or lite treat.  No.  My curiosity led me to the internet.  Tara translates to codfish. Cod.  A fish I had eaten many times.  All of the sudden the unidentifiable taste in my cheese tara was very clear to me.  As it turns out, cheese tara, or fish cheese as I will begin to call it, is actually processed cheese mixed with ground up dried cod and rolled into flat sheets and sliced up to be eaten as a snack with your beer or sake.  Hmmm. At first, I was hesitant to eat the cheese tara anymore, as I was now aware that it wasn't really cheese.  But, I do really like it and there are certainly stranger things you can eat this world, and I've eaten a few myself.  Is fish cheese really any stranger than horse meat or sheep intestines?  No.  I have decided that it definitively is not.  So I will carry on eating my newfound snack and will probably miss it when I am back in the States. If you are ever in Japan, please try the fish cheese.  It's delicious.

That epic tale being told, I've decided to post a list of my goals and hopes for my time in Japan.  This is far less about being cheesy (oh do I love bad and poorly executed puns) or gushy.  This is a completely selfish desire to let into the world my list of goals while in Japan so that I will feel guilty if I do not complete them.  You are now a witness to my list of things to be accomplished while in Japan.  Please nag me.  I really want all of these to happen.  Also, any hints or advice on completing them will be warmly received.

My Japanese To Do List

1. Climb Mt. Fuji.  While number one on my list, this probably one of the last things I will do in Japan.  Not only would it be a nice cap to a year living here, but the climbing season is only six weeks in late summer.  So, in August of next year, I will see the sunrise from atop Mt. Fuji, most sacred mountain in Japan.

2. Learn Japanese.  I will break this down into my two goals for learning Japanese language.
        2a. Be able to go to a restaurant, be seated, order my food and pay my bill entirely in Japanese, in full sentences while understanding what is being said to me.  Now this is the first of my goals, and may sound simple, but Japanese is a difficult language, and I have not, as of yet, found the time and energy to really commit to studying it properly. I am, however, determined to complete this goal in the next 3 months or so.
        2b. Be able to read a full length Japanese play (probably not in Kanji, though) and understand it.  This will be much more difficult, and might be near impossible, but I really want to be proficient in Japanese, and possibly study the language enough to be able to translate, one of my personal academic interests.

3. Go to a Karaoke bar in Tokyo and rock it out Frank Sinatra style.  Anyone who has been to karaoke with me in the states knows that I favor singing "Mac the Knife."  I want to do this Tokyo.  This won't be hard as I live a little over an hour from the largest city in the world.  This is most certainly not the only thing I want to do in Tokyo, but it will get me there and singing karaoke in the land of its invention.

4. Be a tourist.  With the map, the camera and possibly the Hawaiian shirt.  This can happen anywhere, but I think it should.  Not entirely sure why.

5.  Go to Okinawa and see the place my grandfather came during World War II.

6.  See 100 shrines and temples.  The history of Buddhism and Shinto and particularly where they overlap is very interesting to me.  Also, there is truly something sacred and divine about these places and like thousands of generations before me, I feel it is worthy to seek them out.

7. Go skiing in the Japanese Alps.  The skiing is supposedly pretty good here.  I would love to go up to Hokkaido, where they have best snow in the world, but anywhere will do.

8. See at least one event of every traditional Japanese performance style.  Many of you know I was largely drawn to Japan by its traditional theatre.  So, I will see at least one performance each of noh, kyogen, kabuki, bunraku, shinto dance, and manzai while I am here.

9.  Study Noh theatre with a professional.

10. Go to Hiroshima and see the Peace Memorial Museum that remembers and commemorates the victims and survivors of the atomic bomb.

11. Relax in an onsen, preferably the ones the wild monkeys use to keep warm.  This would accomplish two of my goals at once: going to an onsen and seeing wild monkeys.  Onsens are natural hot springs that have been turned into public bath houses.  Very traditional and apparently very good for you.

12. Attend a Cherry Blossom Festival and take part in a hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Shinjuku Gyoen.  This garden in Tokyo is famous for its sakura (cherry blossoms).

13. Go hiking in Nikko National Park.  I do live right next to it and I miss hiking. I suppose part of me will always be in Colorado.

14.  Eat as much delicious Japanese food as I can! This one needs no explanation.

I think I will leave it at 14 for now, but I will probably update the list every now and then. I hope everyone is well wherever you are.  Sayonara!


Ken said...

#15 Buy one of these: http://gizmo.do/cWoaLx

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