When we arrived in Tokyo mid-afternoon the 3rd of January local time, my sleep deprived and weary body didn’t know quite what to expect. I’ll admit, I snuck in some quick z’s on the train from the airport to Ikebukuro Station. But as soon as I exited the station into the neighborhood I would call home for the next few days, curiosity gave the rest of my already running on fumes body a wake up call. “Hey you, lets get going! There’s a whole world out here to explore and I’m not waiting until tomorrow!” So thus began some of the most stimulating and amazing three days of my life, especially for my tastebuds. My first experience with food in Japan came from the meal we were served in the hotel. Now I’ve eaten some American Japanese food, so I had an idea of what to expect, and the first dish somewhat met my oh so naive expectations. It was a meat dish wish some unidentified sauce served with rice, pretty standard right? Well the cafe decided to follow that up with some french fries, not normal french fries. Weird french fries. Which, despite making my stomach feel weird, I continued to munch on until I could have no more without fear of a permanent stomach ache. Thus to say I was eager to see what else Tokyo had to offer.
After dinner my eight man (Yeah, I said EIGHT) group tightly convened in our smaller than Kildahl room to decide what to do/where to go and explore. We decided to play it safe and go with the popular convenience store 7-11. Enter Japanese ice-cream, which my then uncultured self assumed would be exactly like the ice cream I loved growing up. Wrong again, Mr. Stewart. But alas, this experience was not like the infamous french fries. Although the taste was different from what I was used to, it’s hard to make ice cream taste bad. We continued through the bright streets of Tokyo, but my itching taste buds were not to experience any other new tastes that night.
The next morning, we convened as one large group to have our first class and go on the most exciting concept of all. A FOOD TOUR OF TOKYO. This would officially be the best day of my life. As we discussed certain readings and thoughts of our first few hours in Tokyo, our first journal prompt came up. What is good food? Take a minute and think about what you think good food is. Got an idea? Good. The first thing my head went to was my favorite foods, the tastes and the experiences that I had with certain people at certain meals. So we now had a mission, find some good food, and justify that it was so based on observation and evaluation of all the aspects of the meal.
The next two days we traveled across the city with food on the mind. From large scale supermarkets to small stands in crowded markets, my tastebuds experienced things that I would never have even dreamed of. These four pictures are just a small sample of what I encountered.
So what’s my takeaway from all of this? What is good food? Taste aside (since we all want it to taste good, and everyone has a different pallet of tastes they enjoy), there are three areas which I think determine what good food is:
First, who you eat with. Many of my memories from the meals in the first few days in Tokyo are surrounding the people I ate with. I ate at a small ramen restaurant with Peter and Eric while we sat at the counter facing the kitchen, that was good food, not because the taste was superb, but because the environment of the kitchen and the sounds of the restaurant made it an unforgettable experience. I’ve attached the sounds of that experience which I recorded on my phone. Notice there is not a whole lot of talking at first by us, and that’s because the food was just that good, there was no time to talk.
The second element of good food, for me, is the ethics and way that the food got to your table. Take chicken for example. For chicken to be good in this respect, it first must be raised properly. This requirement is twofold. Being raised properly requires that the environment that it is raised in is one where the chicken is treated properly along with being fed the proper nutrients. Besides being raised properly, the place where the chicken is raised must also treat all of its workers with integrity along with fair pay and benefits. This requirement is also applicable to the workers of the slaughterhouse and transportation of the meat. It is easy to get lost with the nitpicking with the ethics for the many steps between the chicken being raised and the food being delivered to you on your plate. It goes without saying that these same ethical responsibilities fall on the producers of other animals and plants that are used in the making of the meal.
The third element is nutrition. Nutrition is something that we talk a great deal about but not in a very in depth way. Food should make your body feel good. Once you eat it, your body should react in a positive manner! Look how
happy Eric is after he ate some awesome food from a small shop in Tokyo! Veggies and color, and I mean real color (peppers, kale, spinich, ect.), along with healthy protein (fish, white meat, ect.) and organic rice. That makes your body feel good.
I have yet to experience all three simultaneously in Tokyo, but in our brief time at ARI, every meal has been a thunderous combination of all three. So it is safe to assume they’re doing something right here, for all of this food is good food.