Patchwork Yokohama
18. Culinary Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          Vince and Connie  Patchwork often received visitors who were
          passing through Japan  as part of some Asian tour. Vince was
          patient but slightly  exasperated  by  their one-dimensional
          view of the  country.  If  they  stayed  there for a week or
          less, the Japanese  were the most warm-hearted people on the
          planet. If they  remained  longer,  the  locals  became  the
          biggest bunch of  ratbags  the world had ever known. He also
          knew from past  experience  that  these  people would be the
          most vocal experts on Japan when they returned to Australia,
          laying blanket fact  on blanket fact about the place. He had
          had  similar experiences  with  Japanese  tourists  who  had
          lectured him on  the  finer  points  of  Australian culture,
          after  only  five   days   in   the   country   on   a   New
          Zealand/Australia group tour that took in Melbourne, Phillip
          Island, Sydney and  the  Gold  Coast. For Vince, the more he
          stayed in the  country, the less he could say he knew and he
          believed that this was the way it should be.


          Such  short-term  tourists   also  assumed  that  the  first
          cultural accomplishment of  anyone  in  Japan  should be the
          language. He would  patiently  try  to explain that food was
          the first cultural  hurdle  anyone  had  to overcome. They'd
          look at him  with  disbelief as they turned up their nose at
          octopus balls, tuna  sushi  or  natto  fermented soya beans.
          They had seen  the McDonald's and the Kentucky Fried Chicken
          in front of  every  railway  station.  It  was  obvious that
          western food was more popular here than it was in the west.

          Admittedly, the first  experience  most visitors had of food
          in Japan was in restaurants. Vince and Connie had been lucky
          to stay their  first  week in the country with a family. The
          mother, Mrs. Suzuki,  had  insisted  on providing Vince with
          such a wide  variety  of  dishes that he had learned to love
          Japanese foods, particularly  mentaiko  with  rice  and nori
          laver and oden stew.

          If you came  at  Japanese  food  through  the restaurants of
          outer Tokyo, you  soon  discovered that Japanese restaurants
          fell into two categories - those that plunged you right into
          the heart of Japan and those that Vince referred to as Tokyo
          Escapes.

          The former could  be  found everywhere. They were the little
          ramenya,  the  sobaya,  the  teppanyaki  shops  down  narrow
          alleys, around every  corner,  all  through  the underground
          arcades near the subways. Vince knew enough of these places.
          He often went  to a shabu shabu place with Connie where they
          dipped finely sliced  meat into hot stock and dipping sauce.
          He had a  favourite  sushiya where he and the Atsukawas went
          on a regular  basis.  It  was  called  Okinozushiya  and had
          introduced Vince to such delicacies as jellyfish and the red
          akagai shellfish which  Osamu  warned him were dangerous. He
          loved soba restaurants with their rich noodle dishes and the
          refreshing soba cooking  juices  which  he drank afterwards.
          Vince actually found  the tenpura he had tasted in Australia
          was far better than the normal tenpura served in Japan. This
          was probably because it was more freshly cooked.

          However, for all  the  restaurants in Yokohama, the one that
          amazed him most was Ichiban Sakaba. Sakaba really meant pub,
          in this case,  a  working  man's  pub and this was where you
          found the ordinary  grub  like  the meat pies and pasties of
          old pubs back  home, those ones that didn't feel they had to
          offer something more culinarily exquisite.

          It was a  rowdy  joint and Connie for one soon realised that
          she was the only woman there apart from the waitresses. Each
          table was crammed  and  there  were men waiting at the doors
          for a vacant  seat.  Osamu  had  really romanticised Ichiban
          Sakaba. The food  here  was  excellent,  it was like nothing
          you'd ever tasted, far better than any food you could get in
          Australia or America  or  France. Vince looked around at the
          other  clientele.  They  hardly  looked  like  connoisseurs,
          finicketty gourmets. Indeed, they appeared too drunk to even
          taste the food.

          As soon as  they  were seated, Osamu ordered two platters of
          horumonyaki, which he  told Vince was the finest dish in the
          house.

          Vince would point  to  an  item on the menu and ask what the
          kanji stood for, "What's that?"

          "That's cow ovaries, but horumonyaki is much better."

          "And what about the one below it?"

          "Pigs' ears, but horumonyaki is much better." ett

          "And below that?"

          "Cartilage, but ..."

          "Yes, I know, but horumonyaki is much better." tte

          When the two  platters  of  horumonyaki  finally did arrive,
          Connie took one look and promptly excused herself.

          "Osamu," she said  politely,  "I'm not going to eat that. In
          fact, I'm not even going to look at it. I'm going home."

          If Osamu was at all upset by Connie's sudden departure, then
          it was more than made up for by the sight of two magnificent
          oval plates brimming  with  horumonyaki.  Vince had to admit
          that he had  never  seen  anything  quite  like it. It was a
          slimy  substance consisting  of  cow's  liver,  stomach  and
          intestine marinated in  a  sauce  that contained more garlic
          than anything else.  You  could, Osamu assured him, also get
          chicken or pork  horumonyaki,  but  he knew that Vince would
          like this best as westerners traditionally preferred beef.

          The platters were  as  yet raw and Osamu showed Vince how to
          cook this gooey  mix  by  placing  it with chopsticks on the
          yakinikku grill. Vince  hadn't eaten liver or tripe since he
          was  a  boy   and  could  remember  that  they  were  hardly
          delicacies. He noted  as Osamu placed the offal on the grill
          that  a  good  part  of  it  oozed  through  into  the  tray
          underneath and burnt  to  cinders there. Other flacks of cow
          innards adhered to  the  grill.  Vince  wasn't  particularly
          upset by this. In fact, he preferred the thought of losing a
          sizable portion of  his  meal  in the tray than later in the
          evening. The very  thought  of  it  travelling  through  his
          throat twice was enough to turn his stomach.

          Osamu drooled as  he  watched  this  concoction  bubble away
          sticking to the  grill.  Before  it  was even cooked, he had
          scooped it into  a  bowl  of  rice  and  was  bucketing down
          horumonyaki  domburi.  Vince  took  it  more  tenderly.  For
          someone  who  prided   himself  on  being  able  to  stomach
          anything, he felt distinctly queasy. He needn't have worried
          about the taste.  The  garlic  was  too  strong.  It was the
          texture that he  found harder to take, the chewiness. He had
          never really liked  liver,  but now he found himself picking
          out the pieces of ox-fry to eat.


          "Oishii ne?" Osamu said, as he ordered yet another platter.

          "No, no, no," Vince pleaded, "have some of mine."

          But Osamu couldn't  possibly  steal  such  delicacies out of
          Vince's mouth. Somehow, Vince managed to get through his one
          platter of horumonyaki  and  prevented  Osamu who was on his
          third from ordering him another one.

          Quite unwittingly, Vince  got  his  revenge.  When they left
          Ichiban Sakaba, Vince  was surprised to discover that it was
          still only 8:00  p.m. It was time, he announced to Osamu, he
          tried good old-fashioned,  Australian  tucker.  Osamu  might
          have assumed that  he  was  safe  from  such  delicacies  in
          Yokohama, but, as  it  turned out, Vince knew just the place
          only three stops away on the Negishi line.


          Aussie was indeed  just  around  the corner from Ishikawacho
          station,  very close  to  Yokohama's  fashionable  Motomachi
          Shopping Mall. Of  all the Australian pubs Vince had seen in
          Japan, it was the most fair dinkum. It was the only one that
          has any Australian  staff  and the bar was cluttered in true
          pub  style  with  Australian  memorabilia,  everything  from
          "Koalas Next Four Kilometres" signs to souvenirs of the 1983
          America's Cup win.

          Aussie  offered  a   menu  that  has  kept  pace  with  real
          Australian  taste  buds.  The  meat  pies,  lamb  chops  and
          fish'n'chips were there, but so too were calamari and chips,
          chicken satay, foil  baked  fish,  oysters  natural,  garlic
          prawns and roast  chicken.  And you couldn't beat the Aussie
          seafood, beef or lamb barbecues.

          The manager, Chikako  Nakano,  had  opened the restaurant in
          1985 after working  in  Australia  for  several  years.  She
          always made a point of coming over to talk to Vince, and was
          always quick to  tell  him  that  she  wanted  to  retire in
          Sydney. Vince had  been  born in Melbourne and had a natural
          animosity towards the  more northern city. He was never game
          to enlighten Chikako about this prejudice.


          Chikako was the  first  to  admit  that most Australian food
          didn't appeal to  Japanese tastes. A case in point had to be
          Osamu himself. He  was  obviously  full  to  the  gills with
          horumonyaki, but Vince  made  a point of ordering a good old
          Aussie meat pie complete with tomato sauce for him to taste.
          Osamu examined the small bronzed oval thick with pastry with
          brown meat sauce  inside  and a dash of read on top for some
          moments

          Finally, he prodded  it  with a fork, "Is this an Australian
          delicacy?"

          "Well," Vince admitted,  "not  exactly.  It's to Australians
          what grilled squid  on  a  stick  is to the Japanese, or hot
          dogs are to  the  Americans. It's the sort of food you'd eat
          at the cricket or the footy."

          "Oh!" Osamu prodded at it again.

          In the end,  Osamu  declined to try the pie and Vince had to
          eat it. The  pie  didn't  sit  well  on  a  full  stomach of
          horumonyaki and he  had  to  admit  that it didn't taste the
          best either. The  idea  of an Australian restaurant in Japan
          still  fascinated  him.   Like   most  Australians,  he  was
          bewildered that anyone  would  want  to eat his native food.
          The final word  on Australian food in Yokohama came with the
          bill. A pie in Australia would cost less than $2.00. Here in
          Japan, it weighed  in at over 2000. So, Osamu's horumonyaki
          feast had cost  less  than  1500  with four bottles of beer
          while their half hour stop at Aussie came to over 4000.