Japan routinely gets labeled weird and quirky. Its image may just be a cartoon cliché based on little, but there's joy in believing that the island nation is drastically different – even odder than England.
Still, few would argue that Japan serves up some extraordinary dishes that make frog’s legs look tame. Take a look at the menu. Spotlighted dishes range from a poisonous fish to feral ice cream.
Some Japanese menu items
Fugu is the Japanese word for pufferfish: that naturally inflatable fun guy of the deep armed with the spikes. If sloppily prepared, the dish can be lethally poisonous, so fugu must rank as one of the strangest dishes available anywhere in the world.
The 'tora' – 'tiger' – fugu is considered the best type of fugu – also the most poisonous.
Japanese fugu chefs need certification before they're able to prepare the dish. After preparation, the entrails and offcuts are kept sealed in a container then incinerated, lest it kills anyone sorting through or removing the garbage.
Restaurants selling fugu can also be found in New York. The fish is imported already cleaned from Japan and is subject to further inspection and approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, removing the element of danger – and adventure.
Bringing a whole new meaning to the term “pub grub”, the Japanese happily devour grubs of all kinds. Think boiled wasp larvae, aquatic insect larvae, fried cicada, fried rice-field grasshopper, and fried silk moth pupae.
And why not? Insects’ taboo, creepy-crawly rap is a random cultural thing. Insects amount to just another kind of protein, like nuts or beef. Fried water beetles, locust and similar crunchy critters are also common in Thailand.
3. Raw horse
Raw horse – or basashi as the Japanese call it – is just what you expect or dread. The dish appears particularly outlandish because it presses two hot buttons. Uncooked meat collides with an animal that we admire and recreationally enlist for transport.
If the thought of basashi makes you feel squeamish, remember that, for most of mankind's early existence, wild horses were hunted as a protein source. Weirdness is in the eye of the beholder.
4. Shirako or “white children” (Google 'milt' for the confronting specifics).
This fishy dish is a popular delicacy at izakaya (Japanese pubs) and sushi bars. Coming from cod, anglerfish (and fugu, for the poisonous variety). Shirako is mainly served raw, but some places will also lightly fry it.
5. Water-flavored ice cream
If you want to up the ante, try some of Japan’s oddball ice creams. At Tokyo’s Ice Cream City you can find a rainbow array of ice-cream flavors.
Think hot spring water, potato, char-grilled seaweed, whale, straw, and… basashi. Yes, you can eat horse meat ice cream. What a thrilling change that would make from vanilla.