In Defense of Poor Taste

Isekai Shokudo is the story of the Resturaunt in Another World. I enjoy it a lot but the truth is, the restaurant is a Japanese establishment serving non-traditional (but by all means traditional by popular Japanese culture) Japanese cuisine. By Japanese cuisine I mean it in the “General Tso’s Chicken is American cooking” kind of way–may it be panko-battered fried prawn or a crepe stuffed with fruit–the style of cooking served by Nekoya’s chef is undoubtedly Japanese.

For better or worse, the dishes served in Isekai Shokudo is perfect for foreign tongues. I imagine most westerners will be fine with what’s served at Nekoya up to uh, the natto pasta?

Elves likes natto pasta?

Only Japanese people like natto. I mean this sincerely. It isn’t to say foreigners can’t appreciate its deep and earthy flavors or its unique mouthfeel, but there is a reason why we think sushi and ramen when we think Japanese cooking, and not, say, natto senbei. Or even Japanese-Italian cuisine FWIW.

I had some really good natto senbei on my trip to Oarai earlier this year and while it has an initial smell and taste that triggers a fight-or-flight response, the rest of the experience was surprisingly rewarding and full of umami. But gosh the barrier of entry is pretty high. I’ve had also normal natto, and chopped up natto. I would be lying to say I’m a fan, but I can eat it. But I’m not too far from this guy when considering odd foods. Like, for most Americans (whose tastes I probably have the best grasp), natto is probably as difficult to get into as a magical door that opens once per week in random fantasy locations.

As a culturally foreign guy who loves to eat I find Japanese cooking pretty much both the least exciting and most expert kind of cuisine and philosophy. In a land where good eats is everywhere, sometimes you feel everyone is more or less making iterative improvements on known winners rather than really making something bold, where porting local cooking to faraway towns to tease local tongues count as adventurous. To me selling natto to anyone outside of China, Korean and Japan, maybe, seems way more of an adventure than any Japanese endeavor.

So it is just a better question to ask: What kind of a fantasy is Isekai Shokudo? Is it a fantasy where people can unite over a good meal where needs of the body, mind and spirit are met? A fantasy that a Japanese-equivalent of a diner can suit the taste of its Tolkien-esqe cast? That Japanese cooking alone can achieve this? It’s not a hole I want to dig because I don’t believe it leads to anywhere nice, but I might have to anyway.

I mean, how many degrees removed is Isekai Shokudo from, uh, this? You can shift races and shift cultures, but in the end it’s the same foreign nonsense, same wishfully positive reactions, over the same mundane Japanese food. It is not a rejection of that, yeah, I sure can use a nice pudding ala mode right now, but this is not the healing foodie paradise that a person tainted with multiple cultural perspectives can really enjoy. At least, I can enjoy it until we run into NATTO OVER PASTA EEEEW. It’s not cultural imperialism, it’s just a flight of fancy too much for me, a wake up call, so to speak.


4 Responses to “In Defense of Poor Taste”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *