Regional cuisine; it’s an adventure for most people. It allows the sense of taste to partake of the exploration found in traveling, and to experience that which is comforting and pleasing to the local population. The truly bold depart from the main streets, and find the little, out of the way places to eat, much as our group had done that pleasant summer day in 1979.
We were a group of Air Force personnel, on temporary duty in Okinawa for a couple of weeks. About a dozen of us had coordinated a day off, and set off to wander about Naha. It was a lovely day, and we had visited an ancient castle, various small shops, and just generally meandered about the capital city.
At lunch time, we happened upon a small family owned eatery, and the majority of our group decided we would give it a try. None of us spoke Japanese, and the single phrase book we passed around between us managed only to provide the most rudimentary of communication. We humbly tried to communicate on their terms, and they graciously didn’t laugh at our clumsy attempts. This point is important, though, because this quaint little restaurant had no employees that spoke English. The menus were entirely in Japanese, and not one of us was capable of even simple interpretation.
If there was ever a time in my life that I desired the gift of tongues, that was it. Please, Lord; just for today, bless me with the ability to speak, understand, and read Japanese.
I probably don’t need to tell you that God did not grant that wish.
To truly convey the intensity of that desire, I must make a painful confession: I am what is referred to as a “Picky Eating Adult.” I can only assume that term was chosen because “Adult Picky Eater” would quickly get shortened to “APE”, and it’s at least a bit more flattering to think of ourselves as PEAs in a pod rather than APEs.
This condition is rather like being color blind or tone deaf; the components of certain foods that make them taste good to most people are absent from my ability to detect. It’s something like trying to enjoy lemonade if you cannot taste the sugar.
While my fellow travelers were perusing the menu and attempting to use the phrase book to decipher what was what, I was in near panic. How to figure out what to order that my defective taste buds could tolerate? Why, oh why, did I ever leave California? How could I say “hamburger” in Japanese? Would it be possible to keep from starving to death without revealing my embarrassing secret to the rest of the group?
I said “hamburger” to our server. The pleasant, smiling young lady repeated it back a couple of times and nodded. Had I just managed to stumble upon a common enough word to bridge the language barrier and save my sagging blood sugar? There was hope!
It was at this point that I witnessed one of the bravest things I have ever seen. One of our crew, rather than trying to figure out the menu, just randomly pointed at a selection on the page. This was mind-boggling. Astounding. He could not have impressed me more if he’d wrestled two tigers with one hand tied behind his back. I was awe-struck.
You see, you can terrify a Picky Eating Adult with three simple words: “Just try it.”
(Admit it; you’ve said those words to a picky eater before, haven’t you? Trust me; we all wish it were that simple. It’d sure make church pot-lucks a lot more fun for us.)
For all my friend knew, he could have just ordered chocolate coated deep fried squid eyes in soy sauce. As I recall, what he got was something squid based, and I think he even complimented them on whatever it was. I coveted my neighbor’s palate.
Just to remind me He had a sense of humor, God made sure that what our waitress understood of “hamburger” wasn’t really what I’d meant. For all I know, it was squid based also. Oh, Lord, bless this; whatever it is.
I envy my friend. He probably returned to Japan sometime, and happily dined his way from one end of the islands to the other. Me; I’m lucky to get through a pot-luck.
There isn’t any squid in that casserole, is there?
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