Monday, May 01, 2006


The final stop on our month-long visit to Japan was Matsuyama-city, where Hiroko's grandmother lives and where she went to high school. It was during this "natsukashii" (nostalgic) portion of our trip that Hiroko developed a yearning to eat Youshoku, which means "western cuisine" in Japanese. Although not prepared using traditional Japanese ingredients, Youshoku is loosely based on western ideas which have then been given a distinctly Japanese twist.

One of the most popular Yoshoku is Omuraisu, omelet rice. It is fried ketchup rice wrapped with an omelet. This peculiar dish is a favorite of many Japanese kids, and oddly, Hiroko still craves this strange dish time to time. Many Americans don't seem to embrace the flavor combination of ketchup, rice, and omelet. Although he grew up in a household where the ketchup bottle was always on the table for scrambled egg breakfasts, Rick is one of those who hasn't yet gained an appreciation for this dish. Since his youth, his tastebuds have somehow lost their affinity for ketchup, so he finds it difficult to understand why anyone would want to ruin good rice by mixing it with the wretched red condiment. But, in the name of love for Hiroko and her similar sentiment for this crazy concoction, he yielded to her desire to eat it while in Japan. So, off we went to the cafe where she had gone for her favorite Omuraisu when she was in high school.

When the the plate bearing the fluffy omelet delicately wrapped around the ketchup rice arrived at the table, Rick's curiousity got the best of him so he closed his eyes and tried one bite. As bizzare as this dish had seemed to him, after tasting it he admitted that it was not nearly as bad as he had imagined. His expression of newfound appreciation went virtually unnoticed as Hiroko's attention was focused on polishing off the Omuraisu before he could do further damage.

On this food journey down memory lane, the second Youshoku dish that Hiroko craved was lasagna. We went to a restaurant, which has the reputation for serving the best lasagna in the city. This lasagna, however, is not exactly Italian-style lasagna but rather the Japanese concept. Unlike the oven-baked dish of layered pasta, meat (or vegetable), cheese, and tomato sauce that most Americans recognize, this variety consisted of single layer of pasta, tomato sauce, cheese, and onions, presented to the table grilled in a cast-iron pan. The popularity of this dish has not waned a bit since Hiroko's high school days. When we went for lunch on a cold February day, the restaurant was packed with customers, most of whom were also eating this lasagna. What we didn't know as we surveyed this scene and inhaled the aroma of sizzling tomato sauce and melted cheese was whether they were reliving a memory or building one for the future.

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