Sunday, April 23, 2006

Goodbye, Old Friends

First, to those of you unable to find Japanese ingredients in your local stores, let me say: neener neener neener. Actually, here are a couple of links that might help you: is an online yellow page listing of Japanese businesses in America. Also try if you want to order authentic Japanese ingredients online (click on the link that says Japanese Traditional).

I’ve had a craving for something exotic lately. I’m not sick of Japanese food, but I thought it would be nice to try something a little different, something from a different culture, so I got a bacon cheeseburger at Folks Southern Kitchen. That’s right, I now view traditional American cuisine as strange and exotic and more than a little disgusting.

I chose Folks because the food is good (for Southern food) and the service is top notch, at least by American standards. I considered a few of my old favorites, my favorite favorite once being their famous country fried steak (that’s right – steak that’s been battered and fried) served with mashed potatoes and okra (also battered and fried) with a Coke on the side, because why miss an opportunity to put something unhealthy in your body by drinking water or green tea? Instead I chose the bacon cheeseburger because, despite using a ½ pound beef patty, it’s a smaller meal than anything else they serve from the adult menu.

I arrived and was immediately seated by a tiny Latino lady. Tiny is the wrong word – I should say short. Most of the staff at my local Folks are short Latino women with a physique best described as “mobile beer keg.” Everyone there has been very nice and the service prompt, except for a couple of guys who can be a little slow. Something that I miss from my home state of Tennessee is the service because most waitresses tend to be flirtatious. In Atlanta, friendly is the best I can hope for, and somewhat polite and competent is usually the best I find. The waitresses at Folks are definitely far into the friendly category, but not at all flirty.

On the other hand, the waitresses at Umezono are friendly in a reserved fashion, but cater to their customers in a way I’ve never seen before. I’ve never had to request anything from them – at most I just look around briefly and one of the waitresses materializes next to me and asks what I need, or (more often than not) already has whatever I need. If the waitresses are busy and don’t see me immediately, one of the sushi chefs discreetly gets their attention and motions them over to me.

The first thing I noticed when being seated at Folks was that the place smelled bad. For a second, I wondered if they had rotten food in the kitchen, or if I smelled the dumpsters out back. Then the smell awakened my memories – grease, with a faint hit of flour and spices. It was the smell of home, which I’ve nearly forgotten since becoming Japanese.

Rather than go on forever (too late), I’ll just list some of the specific differences I observed.

Clientele: Umezono’s patrons tend to be mostly quiet and keep to themselves, which I appreciate while I’m having dinner. It’s a restaurant, not a night club. The lone exception was a stentorian redneck dining with his wife who loudly remarked “They don’t give you much beef here.” I risked a glance at the guy (I didn’t want to make eye contact because I didn’t want to engage him in conversation) and he looked like he had already eaten a whole live cow for breakfast. He went on to frequently tease the waitresses about the quality of the food, something they took very seriously. If you think he would have learned to behave better after the first gaffe, you don’t know your rednecks. I heard “Oh, I’m just kidding” loudly emanate from him throughout the rest of his meal. Note to Dumb Redneck: Umezono isn’t Denny’s, or the Waffle House. Or Folks.

Dumb Redneck would have been right at home at Folks. The noise level is much higher, partially provided by the exuberant staff, but mostly by the loads of fat Jebus-loving freaks who find the restaurant a better place to deliver a sermon than church. I wasn’t eavesdropping (in fact, I always try to tune others out) but I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation coming from the table next to me which was populated by an older man, a forty-ish couple, and a pair of cute little blonde girls. The middle-aged guy was explaining the death of Jesus ad nauseam while his wife constantly corrected the little girls for behaving like, well, little girls. Sample conversation, which I am not making up or exaggerating:
Father: “…blah blah Jebus blah Jebus blah blah Jebus died blah blah…”
Mother: “Stop fidgeting. Sit up straight and be a role model for your sister.” Note – the older one looked about seven or eight.
Little Girl (I didn’t see which one): “Will Jesus get mad if I kill a rat?”
Mother: “No, that’s excused.”
Grandfather: “Cough. Hack hack hack.”
Father: “and then Jebus was killed blah blah Jebus blah Jebus blah blah Jebus died blah…”
Mother: “Stop all that moving around.”

I think I would have been squirming too at that point – an hour long lunch with daddy who won’t shut up about the death of Jesus. I don’t think the Bible mentions Jesus as much he did. I wanted to shout “Just how many times did the dude die anyway, for feck’s sake?” I think if Jesus would have been there, he would have had my back.

Okay, I rambled on more that I meant to. Let me just say that lunch was tasty, although due to my new Japanese perspective on food (hara hachi bunme – eat until you are 80% full, and meat is an occasional side dish) I finished my potato salad but left half of the burger on the plate. It was tasty, but I had to drink two full glasses of Coke to wash it down my throat.

Final results? I’m having trouble writing this because I’ve had to go to the toilet five times since I got home. It seems the food to poo conversion rate is much quicker with American foods, thereby backing my view that American food is basically shite. It’s funny – I took to Japanese foods immediately, but when I tried to have an American meal it upset my stomach. It’s kind of like before my thirty day J-trial with authentic Mexican food. I liked it, but if I ate too much (especially the ultra-spicy stuff) there would be a price to pay. Now if I want to have American food, I have to pay for that in addition to the fact that I’m eating greasy, fattening, smelly, ugly, and generally less appealing food in the first place.

I may never eat American food again. Watashi wa Nihon-jin desu.

So, I’ll be having Japanese at home tonight. I thought about Umezono, but I’ve been three times this week already and I don’t want the little waitress-usagi to think I’m in love with them, even though I am. At least they have gotten over their fear and loathing of me. When I first ate there, they all shouted “Irasshaimase” when I entered, which probably means “Great. Another fecking redneck on our turf.” Then they ignored me for awhile. Yesterday, the first one I encountered smiled and said “Hi.” I wanted to fold the little beauty into my arms, gently nibble on her ear, and whisper sweet nothings like “Be my victim.” But I’ve lived long enough to know that some women just can’t take a compliment, so I kept my desires to myself.

I opened my refrigerator and realized that I still have some things leftover from my days when I ate as an American. It’s time to do some spring cleaning and say good-bye to a few old friends. Cocktail sauce? Buh-bye. Ketchup? There was a time I needed you daily, but now you’re gone. Here’s the real kicker – ranch dressing. Once I viewed it as nature’s most perfect food, something that complimented nearly everything I ate – salads, chicken strips, pizza, fried mozzarella sticks, you name it. Now the only thing I would possibly ever use it on would be a salad, and I prefer either Marie’s Spinach Salad dressing for spinach salads or Umezono’s house dressing (made with miso paste) for other salads. After I clear out a few non-J ingredients, my refrigerator will be filled with nothing but healthy, organic foods.

Notice a theme?

I challenge you to find a single unhealthy food in my refrigerator. Bonus pic for no reason at all: my pantry.

J-food rulz!


Tracy Lynn said...

Dude, I totally get the American food thing. Since I started to change my diet for dialysis, there are just some things I can't/won't eat anymore, and high on the list is stuff that's fried. I don't include tempura, because it seems so light it's not like eating fried food at all.
I tried to eat fried clams last months, and seriously thought I might die.

People aren't as loud here in New England, and even if they are, they don't generally talk about Jesus. At least, not at mealtimes. People are trying to eat, for crissakes.

fatty ~ said...

hehehe ~ i'm not surprised. you did a real good system clean. Bye bye cheeseburgers!

I have a tough stomach - can eat anything without digestive problems.

"Irasshaimase" - they always say that in welcome don't they? Especially to new customers and westerners to make you feel welcome/special. I suppose you're considered a regular now ;)

mal said...

Republic of Tea has a really great selection of flavored green and black teas

I am with you on Jesus, I suspect he would be really annoyed if he were here and heard all the things that are said and done in his name.

hellbunny said...

Plenty of beer in your fridge Grant.What seaweed rice crackers like?

Kira said...

Beer: it's not just for breakfast anymore!

Grant said...

tracy lynn - I noticed Umezono's yasai tempura isn't very greasy. It's funny what you said about New Englanders - around here they have a reputation for being noisy, although less Jebus-obsessed.

fatty - I had a piece of of steak tonight, but I ate it J-style. The rice and miso soup was the mainstay of the meal, with just a bit of beef to flavor things. I hope they're considering me a regular because a) I am, and b) they're all extremely hot.

mallory - amen. After I use up my Lipton green tea, I'm going to stick with the stuff I get from the local Japanese store.

hellbunny - I tend to stock up on beer. The Lowenbrau is what I normally drink, the 12pack behind is Belgian that I wanted to try, the two six-packs are Japanese (never tried them either), and the Coors are for my visiting guests who don't like non American beers. Seaweed rice crackers are very salty, but don't dry your mouth the way saltines do.

kira - I bought a bumper sticker in Austin that said the same thing.

SJ said...

Ooooh! Look at all those lovely bottles... your fridge is totally gonna get raided.