The following episode happened in July, 2015
Watching him trying to eat sushi was horrible. He literally looked like he would throw up for every bite he took. He still kept trying though, he worked his way through every piece on the plate, if only a little taste. The tuna and the snapper he actually liked, he said so, but did not finish them without some encouragement.
The rest of the fish, he took a small nibble, then went through the whole act of almost throwing up. The waitresses were standing just behind the corner, eying him with a look of half-laughter and half-pity.
He did not even touch the rice.
When my friend first told me, a few weeks before meeting me in Japan, that he was a picky eater, I did not think much of it. Japanese food isn’t just raw fish, I was certain I could find something he liked. There is yakitori (bbq-skewers), wagyu beef, ramen, fried chicken. So many tasty dishes, he can’t have a problem with all of them. I was determined to find some Japanese food he liked.
Our first meal went great. We had breakfast in Osaka, tenderloin and chips. He ate it all. Not really Japanese food, but if he liked meat I could see no difficulties. I was certain this would be no problem.
For dinner that day I took him to a yakitori-restaurant. All kinds of bbq-skewers. Chicken, beef, vegetables, all kinds of meat from the cow. I ordered a selection of different skewers, my friend went for the three skewers on the menu with tenderloin. I should have checked his order first.
While the food was being prepared I looked at what my friend had ordered. Three skewers of tenderloin, but the garnish made me sceptical. Wasabi, cod roe, salmon roe. If you are picky with your food, should you jump straight into wasabi and roe?
I don’t think my friend really knew what he ordered, was anxious to see his reaction.
The food arrived, I loved it, my friend tried some but did not like it. The garnish threw him off at once. He scraped it off, but I think just the thought of it made him lose his appetite. I finished his food as well. My first attempt to find Japanese food he liked had failed, but I felt that was his fault, not mine. Why did he have to order food with such garnish?
It was around midnight, we were hungry. We found an izakaya and went inside. I ordered sushi, my friend ordered fried chicken and fries. I really felt nothing could go wrong with that order. Who doesn’t like fried chicken?
We waited for our food drinking beer and shochu. My friend had now spent 24 hours in Japan and had totally fallen in love with the country. I remember that feeling from my first visit. He kept talking and talking about all the great things in Japan.
The food arrived, the sushi was great. I quickly finished it, my friend had barely touched his food. I asked if something was wrong, he replied he did not like the chicken. He could not even touch his fries anymore, the horrible taste off the chicken had ruined his appetite.
I was starting to get a bit worried. Would I ever find something he liked?
The next day I took him to a wagyu restaurant. Surely a really good steak could not go wrong. We were in Kyoto during a typhoon, it had been raining all day. We were wet, it was nice to sit down inside. We warmed ourselves on beer and sake while waiting for our food. I had good hopes I would finally see my friend finish a proper meal.
The food arrived. A nice, juicy steak, rice, fries. It looked delicious. The steak was cooked to perfection. Still bloody inside, it almost melted on your tounge. I love wagyu, it surely is one of the best meats in the world.
Once again my friend barely touched the food. Too bloody, he said. He cut some small pieces from the part that was most cooked, most of the steak he did not touch. Once again I ate for two. I loved it, all the time I was getting free meals. But at the same time I felt really bad I could not find him a Japanese dish he liked.
At this point my brain was working as hard as it could trying to think of some other food he might like. I had planned to take him to a ramen shop, but he probably would not like that either. Tempura? No. Soba? Udon? I didn’t think so. I did not even know what he liked still. Nothing we had tried so far had been to his liking. Nothing.
I simply gave up. Whatever. Tomorrow he can decide where to go even if we go to McDonald’s, where he had been sneaking of to for food. I had tried. I had really had tried. I guess Japanese food isn’t for everyone.
Next evening, in Nara, he chose the restaurant. Porky, an American style diner. He ordered his plain burger, I ordered their special burger with their special sauce. It was horrible. Bland and tasteless. I have always said to people that I have never been served a bad meal in Japan, now I cannot say it anymore. I was served a bad meal at Porky in Nara. My friend found the food bland as well, but with no scary ingredients he was finally able to finish his meal. At least that felt great.