Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Kusaya.

It's hard to run out of foods that Americans would consider bizarre. We have such a strict perception of food that, if it cannot be wrapped in a bun/tortilla, it is considered at least slightly exotic.  There are also foods considered slightly strange even in their hometowns.

Ah, Japan. If I ever need to look for foods that we Westerners would consider weird, I always look East - and Japan is so far East that they call themselves "The Land of the Rising Sun." The only reason I know about this one at all is because my Japanese teacher told me it existed. (Thank you, Fair-sensei!)

Kusaya is one of the weirdest fish dishes to ever come out of Japan. Yes, the fish above look like  normal dried, grilled fish, but this particular method of cooking fish is only commonly done in a few select regions of Japan (particularly Hachijojima).  Alas, the weirdest thing about kusaya cannot be conveyed over the internet: It reeks.

You should all be very glad the computers cannot carry smells over the internet. Kusaya literally means "smelly fish." It's an apt name; people will notice right away if one of these is around.  Kusaya ranks right up there with natto on the list of "Japanese foods that even the Japanese don't wholly accept." People will notice if you open a package of kusaya on the train. Point is, its name is related to "kuso," "crap," for a reason.

Kusaya's strong smell comes from how it is dried: After the fish is broiled or grilled, it is dunked in fish sauce, which is effectively the parts of the fish that nobody wanted to eat. This fish sauce might not have ever been changed, meaning that not only is stuff rotting, but it is rotting faster with the sun's rays beating down on it from time to time. Let's be fair: Cheese reeks to people in Asia, too.

People usually have a love-hate relationship with kusaya. My Japanese teacher loves it - it's salty, so if you like salty foods, go for it. Other people cannot stand the smell. It is one of those foods that the Japanese will dare American people to eat. It can probably be found in Japanese grocery stores...just open it in private.

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