Most people like barbecue and most people like chicken, including myself, so I thought nothing could go amiss when I agreed to go to a Japanese barbecue grilled chicken restaurant for dinner.
This was my first dinner experience out not accompanied by someone fluent in Japanese, as it was just me and Anna, the other intern in my dormitory. Before arriving, I dismissed any idea that the language barrier would make eating at a restaurant difficult. I figured I could just point to what I wanted, completely forgetting that in order to point to words on a menu you have to understand what the characters mean.
After five minutes of attempting to understand what the hostess was asking from us, which we learned much later that she was asking where we would like to sit, we were escorted to a table and immediately provided hot green tea and wet towelettes. (Towelettes are commonly provided at any Japanese restaurant to wash your hands with before the meal and use as a napkin during the meal). Using the Google Translate App, we discovered one item said skewered, suggesting that meal would be chicken skewers. We decided to order two plates of chicken skewers, partly because it sounded delicious, but mainly because we did not know what anything else on the menu said.
As we waited for the food, I became progressively more hungry to the point where every food plate brought out by waiters I wanted. One plate I saw over and over being brought from the kitchen looked like french fries! Upon further Google Translate we found and ordered our own and when they arrived they were actually real french fries but instead of salt they were drenched in garlic butter! I felt so American that my first dinner outing without someone who is Japanese I found and ordered the most American thing on the menu: french fries.
Immediately after serving the french fries, our chicken skewers came out with four very different looking skewers of meat. Through broken English, the waiter described each meat and they were as follows (from the top left skewer): chicken heart, chicken thigh, minced chicken, chicken breast and some sort of green bean. However, because of the broken English, I didn’t hear chicken heart, I heard chicken hot, assuming he was warning us that the chicken had just come off the grill.
I began with the chicken breast because that was what I was most familiar with. It was amazing, but incredibly difficult to pull off the skewer and eat with chopsticks. I must have looked like I was having problems because the waiter came back soon after and offered forks for me to use but I was insistent I would eat this food all with chopsticks. How else will I learn? About half way through the meal, I had not yet tried the chicken heart, and Anna asked if I was scared to try it. “Why would I be? It’s just hot chicken,” I replied as she started laughing, “no, it’s chicken HEART. H-E-A-R-T.”
I panicked, and it must’ve been pretty obvious because Anna offered to take it. But this is what you eat in Japan! And if I am going to be living in a country for five months I will need to get used to eating foods like this, and so I declined Anna’s offer. The skewered chicken heart tasted just like all the other parts of the chicken! Shockingly, I actually enjoyed it once I got over the fact it was heart! Now very proud of myself, I finished my meal and walked back to the dormitory full and sleepy from eating so much.
My big takeaway from this night was that just because something is not eaten commonly in America or I have never eaten it before doesn’t mean it will not taste good. I have to keep reminding myself to be open to trying new things, otherwise I’ll be stuck eating plain white rice for five months. It was a big milestone and my first major test I passed that I’m not just going to say I will try new things, but I am actually trying new things too. If you would have asked me a month ago whether I would be eating chicken heart, I would have said not in a million years! Japan is helping me explore new tastes and textures and for that I am extremely thankful.
I threw myself into this new culture and am learning to embrace it. While I have not entirely adapted yet, I have much more confidence in my ability to adapt. Here’s to hoping I continue trying new things!