You are sitting on the floor. A cloche-covered plate is placed in front of you. Then, just like the scene in Indiana Jones where they reveal a soup full of eyeballs, the cloche is lifted presenting you with half an octopus on a plate.
This was my experience. And, for a person with a phobia of cephalopods, there’s nothing more horrifying than finding yourself face-to-plate with octopus brain. So welcome to the reality of Japan’s gastronomic world, where even jellyfish is edible. I have made a list of 5 of the strangest foods I encountered that I think you should experience for yourself.
This gray, spotted potato jelly is made from the konjac tuber. It also goes by the enticing names: devil’s tongue or voodoo lily. It’s referred to as “the broom for the stomach” due to its high fibre content.
Why you’ll love it: its low calorie count makes it an excellent diet food.
4. Horuman aka pig intestines
Horuman is of those ‘delicacies’ that will suddenly appear in front of you. It’s white and tough, and grilling it doesn’t improve it.
Why you’ll love it: eating this will bring great joy to your Japanese hosts––always a good thing.
3. Tako sashimi
Octopus sashimi is a favourite that’s presented in such a way that you are quite aware of what you’re eating––tentacles, suckers and all. You will get to chew your way through white, rubbery flesh with surprisingly little taste.
Why you’ll love it: you won’t. But it’ll make for a fantastic story. Just smile and chew.
You’ve just been told you’re about to eat a special and traditional food, only when it arrives it looks and smells like a troll sneezed on some beans that were lovingly cultivated in a dirty sock. Can you do it? This is as awful as it gets. Natto is made from soybeans fermented with bacteria that comes with a multi-syllabic name and a long family history. It is gooey and smelly and awful.
Why you’ll love it: if you keep it down you will gain bragging rights and lots of respect.
1. Kit Kats
This does not get the label of ‘horrifying’ but it makes the list purely for the awe factor. Japan is renowned for their experimentation (remember that this is the country that thinks squid ink is a great flavour for lemonade), and you will spend ages discovering the weird and wonderful. Start off with strawberry or cookies and work your way up to wasabi or soy sauce. In three years I tasted over 40 different flavours*.
Why you’ll love it: Going on the hunt. Apparently cheese can be a flavour.
You won’t truly experience a country if you haven’t tried to go fully local––no matter how scary it can be. So I suggest you just go for it and try that chicken cartilage kebab. As my father always says, “Try it. You might just like it”.
*Other flavours include: spiced pumpkin, passion fruit, raspberry, caramel McFlurry, apple, apple and carrot, jasmine tea, inako ohagi (sticky rice and jam); ginger ale, milk coffee, green tea, raspberry and passion fruit, semi-sweet; cookies, vanilla cookies, Ramunade (Japanese style lemonade), mango pudding, orange, rose, royal milk tea, Calpis soda, caramel pudding, banana, citrus and chilli, purple sweet potato, citrus blend, strawberry cheesecake, melon, corn, sweet potato, kinako (soybean flour), Halloween salted caramel, sakura (cherry blossom), cayenne pepper, aloe, bitter-almond, blueberry, strawberry and cranberry, cola, lemonade, café ole, blueberry cheesecake and cheese. These are just the few that I found.