I return, drunker by far than I should be at this hour on a Wednesday, fresh from a midweek sesh with the clerk from one of my schools, who also happens to teach in the weekly assembly of studious foreigners and native Japanese volunteers I've been frequenting since September. Apart from a mutual love of Eberhard Weber
, I have learned also of the profound battle between Sushi chef and customer.
Apparently (and bear in mind that at the time of writing, I am pretty damn drunk) when entering a sushi restaurant (a real sushi restaurant, not one of those Kaiten
[conveyor belt] places frequented by plebs) the first thing one orders is Japanese style omlette, a.k.a yakitamago
. This is the initial yardstick by which the merit of the establishment is measured. The pernickity, overtly sadistic or just plain savvy customer will first examine the colour and aroma of this offering, then taste it. At this point, the chef, or sushi-ya-san
will be fretfully awaiting the connoisseurs judgement. As an alternative to a speedy "bill please," the customer may decide that the gykou
is good enough to warrant staying, at which point they will order hot sake
Relief for the sushi-ya-san
There then follows a battle of the wills, both chef and customer testing the others depth of knowledge in this chosen battlefield. The customer will ask the chef to recommend the days special, a challenge which will reflect on the chef, as he no doubt chose the special himself from the fish market at some ungodly hour in the morning. This is a ritual battle with one victor. The cunning customer could potentially walk away from a sushi banquet fit for a Daimyo
for as little as twenty-five quid, the alternative being twice as much if the sushi-ya-san
works out that his opponent is in fact blagging it.
This confrontation with the chef is apparently typical of Japanese cuisine, and now this factoid has been imparted to me, it makes perfect sense. In most of the restaurants I've been to here, there is naught separating chef from customer but a modest kitchen counter. Here, the cook is completely responsible for what is served in their restaurant, with none of this hiding behind the double-swinging kitchen doors. If a customer doesn't like what they've been served, then the chef will answer to their complaints, before the entire shop if need be.
Diving deeper into the Japanese consciousness and acknowledging a profoundly militaristic culture, this practice presumably has its roots in the tea ceremony - Samurai, preparing to go into battle would have a nice cup of tea beforehand. Perhaps they had families and children. Perhaps they would go on to win a great victory for their Lord and lands. Perhaps they would die in trying. Perhaps this would be the last cup of tea they would ever drink. Better then, to make it the best cup of tea ever, before them, to make it with all the effort one would put into fighting for their home and to be answerable to ones comrades before death and glory.
It's funny and frustrating that I feel I'm only just getting a handle on this amazing country with only four months left of being here.
Labels: cool places, culture (shock), food, fun, I wasn't expecting that, Japan