I acquired a fascination for sushi, sashimi, tempura, and robata quite a few several years ago. The bite-sized nature of these delicacies make them easy to eat …. so it’s rather ironic that I have never mastered the art of holding or using my chopsticks properly. The waiters always pause and sometimes give me strange looks when a fork is requested instead–which, much to my amusement, invariably gets given to my non-Asian eating partner. Or partner(s).
Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurants used to be a rarity/novelty in Vancouver … thirty years ago. These days, you can’t run across a food court without bumping into one, or three. Tatami rooms are common features in the bigger, standalone restaurants (you may or may not have to leave your shoes outside them), as are sushi-go-rounds and bamboo sushi boats. Oyster motoyaki is a particular favourite of mine. It’s made with a special sauce that isn’t so special for some diners, whom I’ve seen pluck out the oysters and forsake the creamy, day-glo orange (or yellow) sauce in the half-shell.
Other personal favourites at an AYCE dinner include California roll, Alaska roll (a deluxe salmon roll), scallop maki, salmon sashimi, tuna sashimi, and hokkigai. Hokkigai is, coincidentally, pronounced “hockey guy” — and that’s commonality #1 in this post. Cooked unagi, ika karaage served with soy butter, and short ribs are must-haves. Stir-fried noodles aren’t just noodles — I’ve gotta have my yakisoba.
Mango pudding (actually, mango puree) is a common dessert, and next to ice cream, is something that I have between rounds of sushi and robata to cool down the food in the tummy and make room for more comestibles. Green tea ice cream, if the establishment serves it, is also great (don’t ever mistake it for wasabi).
And, of course, green tea is the de jour drink with a Japanese meal, unless your favourite libations run to coke or Asahi beer. Eating and drinking, even at the best of times, is a messy proposition. As it has happened (on more than one occasion), spilled tea has this neat habit of finding itself under cups and plates (turning the table surface smooth and slippery), and sending both sliding effortlessly towards and away from diners with eerie effect. As if someone is playing with Ouija boards. This is both a conversation stopper and starter. We’ve never had dishes or cups slide completely off the table and crash to the ground below–but there’s a first time for everything.
Now we just need the waiter to bring out a couple of paddles for us to bat the frictionless dinnerware around with. And that is commonality #2: how a visit to the local sushi restaurant can turn into an impromptu game of air hockey.