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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Today we welcome back Anne Van with another tale of her travels in Japan. -- AP

The Bustling Steets of Shibuya

I’ve traveled around enough to not be shy about asking locals for advice. Sometimes with my limited vocabulary, I’ve had to fill in missing words with hand signs and the occasional sketch. But I’m pretty good at getting my message across. I enjoy finding spots that are a bit off the beaten path. Whether a hidden church or temple, or a restaurant that features unusual cuisine, I’ve found some amazing places by asking the locals to divulge their favorite spots.

But a word of cautionthis strategy has risks. You may be led to places you’d rather not know existed and encouraged to eat things that probably shouldn’t enter your digestive system. Most of the time I don’t regret following a local’s advice, but here’s an example of a time I wished I’d been a bit more discriminating.

On a sticky summer night in Tokyo, I should have known better than to brag to a Japanese local that I was an adventurous eater. The Japanese eat more unusual things than raw fish.

But then the cute guy with a big smile said in broken English, “I know a place with interesting food close by.” 

Visions of exotic foods filled my head and I said, ”Great! Where is it?”
In hindsight, I probably should have been more leery of the word “interesting.”

By now I’d learned that to get anywhere in Tokyo you needed a local to point the way. He eagerly drew me a map. “Here,” he said as he handed me the directions. “You are going to have an enjoyable meal.”

With those words of encouragement I headed off to find my dinner. Following the map the guy drew for me; I walked down the twists and turns of the streets in downtown Shibuya, until I came to a tiny hole-in-the-wall. The front of the restaurant, only the size of a storage shed, looked like it could hold barely twenty people.

There was something charming about the brick clad facade with a large green door. Overhead hung a beat up wooden sign with a green grasshopper sitting proudly on a large leaf. The aroma of roasted meat tickled my nostrils as I opened the door. I sat down at a large bar similar to one you’d find at a sushi restaurant, and breathed deeply. I was starving and the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen almost made me drool.

One of the chefs came over and asked me for my order. With my limited Japanese, I said, “Can I have the house special?”

The man next to me raised his eyebrows, and said in broken English, “You like very much.”

I watched as my fellow diners enjoyed large plates of noodles with an unusual shaped garnish that seemed to be moving. Had the summer heat finally gotten to me? My dinner companions seemed unfazed as they slurped up their noodles enjoying every bite.  The chef worked feverishly behind the counter arranging a group of small brown pod like objects on top of a mound of noodles.

He presented my dinner with a big flourish and said, “Itadakimasu, dig in!”  

My mouth dropped open when I looked down at the “house special”. The wonderful roasted aroma I had been salivating over all night was roasted beetles!  

 Moral of the story: be wary of locals advice. You may end up with a beetle in your mouth.  

If you’d like to know more about my adventures in Japan, you can read my story Going Underground, in The Best Women’s Travel Writing of 2011. You can also find  more travel stories on my blog, annevan1111.blogspot.com.

Hmm…I don’t think Cloris will be featuring any beetle soup recipes any time soon. I also don’t think I could have been as brave as you, Anne. What about you, readers? Would you eat beetles? Post a comment to be entered into a drawing for a book from this week's Book Club Friday author. -- AP


Liz V. said...

Definitely checking out ingredients before ordering. I remember ordering in Japan by pointing to mockups. No surprises. And the hotel provided a card, with a map of its location, so someone could deliver you back after your wanderings.

Unknown said...

My friend's husband is in Japan right now! I'm sending her the link to this. :)

Anne Van said...

Janel think your friend will be fine if he
plays it safe like Liz and just pick off the
Photo menu. Just tell him not to say he's
an adventureous eater like I did !!!!

Margo Candela said...

My kid would totally eat this. He's much braver than I'll ever be...at least when it comes to food.

Nicole Maggi said...

Ewwww! I'm a pretty adventurous eater but I think I'd have to draw the line at beetles! Still, when in Rome...er, Tokyo... ;-)