Whew. Hello there. I’m alive, though it doesn’t feel like I should be. But I made it through the past three weeks (Lord help me, it’s June already?) with nary a scratch. Perhaps a slightly bruised heart, but that was an old wound I just ripped open for a little bit. I’m cool now. Both of us are, fingers crossed and the fates willing. Everyone says that time fixes everything. That, and you make some drastic changes to symbolise some kind of fresh start, so I did a Bernice and bobbed my hair. It’s short and summery, and with my usual flower hairbands it’s kind of fabulous in a kokeshi doll sort of way. I said as much to my friend, and he choked and sputtered a bit, before telling me that
“You shouldn’t say that.”
“Kokeshi has a double meaning, you know…”
“No, I don’t know.”
“It has a sexual feel, like, you know…”
“No, I don’t know!”
“The shape, it’s like, well, you know. Something women use. Electric ones.”
“Oh. …You could’ve just said.”
Trust a Japanese guy to beat around the bush in telling me I’d inadvertently compared my new haircut to a dildo. Wikipedia doesn’t tell you about kokeshi being slang for that, by the way. Not even in Japanese.
But yeah, where was I? That’s right, food, being busy, not sleeping. Sleep is a serious luxury these days. Remember that pseudo-vegetarian phase I was talking about in the last post? That didn’t last long. You don’t really get much in the way of vegetables, eating out in Tokyo, unless you specifically order them. I run into dorm mates these days and they go, haven’t seen you in the kitchen lately. I know, sorry, I tell them. I miss cooking. There’s just been no time to cook.
This awful, desperate realisation that I spent too much time holed up in my room during my first few months here just slapped me smart-side-up, and I’m trying to make up for lost time. So what with the internship, work, school, midterms and meeting visiting friends (and family next week!) for meals around Tokyo, there’s barely been time to sleep, let alone sit down and take stock of everything. But here I am now, trying to write things down, so I don’t forget.
Forgetting is serious business, almost reflexive these days. I keep a journal/scrapbook-thing (it looks incredibly craft-hipster and I fucking love it) and if I don’t take notes or at least scrawl something down, it all fades into this hazy blur. Photos help jog one’s memories, though. Like that one at the top, of the hunks of tofu? That was mind-blowing. That’s a really good version of jimami tofu, which I had with a dear friend – who wanted me to try it – at Dachibin, an Okinawan joint in Koenji. It looks exactly like an ordinary, shivery slab of tofu until you bite into it. You realise that it has a texture that sort of defies descriptions of other tofus – it’s thicker, a little more gelatinous, creamier with a vaguely sticky sort of bite. Then you look at Wikipedia, and realise it’s actually made from peanuts. Another hidden danger in Japan for folks with nut allergies: tofu that contains not a whisper of soybeans whatsoyever.
(I linked my friend to Wikipedia, expressing my amazement that it was made from peanuts, and they replied with what amounts to “Jeez, Flory, I told you that in the restaurant.” More proof that if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t stick.)
I don’t know much about Okinawan food – am dying to visit that island – but it feels kind of Chinese in lots of ways. Like the prevalence of pig – the simmered belly pork (rafute) and pork knuckle (tebichin no nitsuke) – or stir-fried bittergourd, or the tofuyo which is like my mum’s fuyee. Or this Okinawan okonomiyaki (hirayaachii) which I couldn’t quite get behind – is it a pancake with a pita-esque texture? A Chinese scallion pancake with red ginger pickles and such? It felt pretty scant on toppings, and I like a high ratio of topping-to-carb, but I didn’t quite know how it should actually taste. My dining companion didn’t really fancy it either.
Food wasn’t really the main priority that night, though. I enjoyed it, the way you do when everything tastes pretty good, but business was a little more unpleasant that day. Conversations like these are always difficult to have.
“Can we still be friends?”
“Of course, we were always friends to begin with.”
“Oh good. I thought you’d hate me.”
“No, no. I could never hate you.”
The shima rakkyo (tempura’d shallots) were tasteless and soggy. I thought it might have been because I was crying, but they were depressingly limp. Still, we managed to joke about the taco sausages being sauced with jarred Tesco salsa (they were kind of ordinary, seriously), order more food, and talk to the traditional dance group members who joined our long table later that night. It was a surreal night, simultaneously fun and painful.
“Remember when we were friends, back in London?”
“Of course I do…”
“You came to my screenings, we’d go out for dinner after that.”
“We just had fun, didn’t we?”
“We can still do that, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, we can.”
I was relieved but not entirely convinced, and for some three or four days after that I was a total wreck, blubbering here and there in toilets and trains, until a few emails (purely normal, keeping-it-cool exchanges, I assure you) reassured me that, yes, we’re still going to be friends. Trusting people to keep promises like these is something I’ve never been very good at, but I’m working on it. But this person’s never let me down as a friend yet, so I’m going to try my best, too.
Anyway, Dachibin. I’d go back for three things: the atmosphere, the tofu, and the sea grapes, which are incredibly fun to eat. The picture above is pretty shit, but they’re kind of like fish eggs on seaweed stems except crunchier, with that same puchi-puchi kind of texture, meaning they pop in your mouth. You dip them in ponzu, and you get wonderful briny bullets accented with vinegar. One of the downsides is that the sea grapes, and some of the other food (e.g. tofu), seem bizarrely expensive for their portion sizes. Is this just me? Am I just a glutton?
Maybe I should try Kiyoka instead.
3-2-13 Koenji, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan
3 minutes walk from Koenji Station (Chuo Line : North Exit)
17:00~29:00 || 03 3337 1352