Renowned for its beautiful architecture, scarily advanced technology, and strong tradition, Japan remains one of the most fascinating countries to culturally dissect. However, it is the nation’s eccentric game shows, colorful anime, and unusual gadgets that seem to generate considerable attention. The same fervent interest lies in Japanese food.Japan’s gastronomical delights have evolved through centuries of social, political, and economic shifts. The region’s chefs are notorious for their fusion cuisine, combing dishes from around the world with their own culinary flair. Such emphasis on innovation and originality has led to a mishmash of novel, interesting, and downright strange creations. As you will see from this list, the Japanese certainly adhere to the “try everything once” school of thought in terms of food.
The Japanese have taken a traditional Indian dish and put a unique spin on it. Simply put, kare donatsu is a deep-fried doughnut filled with curry. The inexpensive snack, costing a mere couple of bucks, is sold at bakeries and stores across Japan. Tokyo’s Toyofuku bakery proudly claims that it has produced kare donatsu using Japanese beef for more than a century.Inspired by the kare donatsu recipe, Japanese confectionary company Tirol decided to release another bizarre curry creation—curry chocolates. These bite-size snacks, called Kare Pan Tirol, have a chocolate, curry, and crunchy bread interior. The emergence of curry doughnuts even spawned “Kare Pan Man” (Curry Bread Man), an anime superhero made of curry bread.Curry was first used in Japan during the mid-1800s. It is believed that English merchants of the Japanese port city Kobe first introduced the country to curry powders. Curry dishes quickly spread through cookbooks and became a staple diet of the Japanese navy. In the 1930s, a Japanese merchant sampled curry rice aboard a steamship bound for Europe. Upon his return, he began selling an affordable version of the dish in his Osaka department store. It was an instant hit and led to curry houses appearing all over Japan.
The dancing squid (katsu ika odori-don) is both a Japanese delicacy and viral sensation. As the name suggests, the squid serves as an acrobatic jester to restaurant goers. Dousing the cephalopod in soy sauce leads to an electrical response in the creature’s limbs. More specifically, it is the salt in the soy sauce that causes the tentacles to thrash, making it seem as if the squid were still alive.As the squid is freshly killed, much of the tissue is still functional. The sodium chloride within the sauce triggers action potentials in the sensory neurons of the tentacles. A series of electrical signals are then sent to the muscles, causing them to contract and relax. Since the squid’s muscle cells still possess energy reserves in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), movement is still possible.The dancing squid has courted controversy online, with some viewers complaining about animal cruelty. However, the squid’s brain is removed during cooking. As a result, the squid is dead and cannot feel pain. The same phenomenon is at play when salt is sprinkled over severed frog legs. For those of a morbid disposition, it is worth mentioning that a similar experiment was performed on a dead convict during the early 1800s.The dancing squid is sold at Ikkatei Tabiji, a restaurant in Hakodate. It is typically served alongside rice, salmon roe, and shiso leaves.
Shiro-uo (Ice Gobies)
Here is another piece of “dancing” cuisine. Unlike the dancing squid, however, these sea creatures are sometimes alive when consumed. Shiro-uo are tiny, translucent fish. When placed in the mouth, they are said to do the odorigui dance.More generally, the Japanese word odorigui refers to eating seafood that is still moving. This can occur when the creature is alive (e.g., shiro-uo) or dead (e.g., katsu ika odori-don). More commonly, though, shiro-uo are consumed when they are motionless and dead. For example, they are frequently used as a rice topping.Caught throughout the Kyushu and Honshu islands of Japan, living gobies are sold at premium prices.
Wasps, Hornets, Bees, And Their Larvae
To most, these insects are picnic-plundering pests. To the Japanese, they represent a delicious snack. In fact, Emperor Hirohito was known to engage in a spot of entomophagy, munching away on a diet of wasps and rice.Somewhere in Japan is a man chasing down a flag-waving wasp. These “wasp hunters” place small lumps of meat around the forested slopes of central Japan, waiting for the carnivorous critters to take a piece back to their nest. Affixed to the meat is a little white flag that allows the hunters to trace the wasp through the air.Once the nest is located, the group incapacitates the wasps using smoke. Parts of the larvae-rich nest are then taken away and used in Japanese cuisine. It is even possible to purchase cans of wasp larvae from stores and packets of bee larvae from vending machines.Hunters search for nests of the Asian giant hornet (aka the yak killer) using a similar technique. The powerful adult hornets are lured into a large container of shochu alcohol and left to ferment. The end result is an intoxicating hornet juice packed with vitamin C and protein. Meanwhile, the larvae is harvested from the nest and used in a variety of dishes, including appetizers, broths, and tempura.