Sunday, August 30, 2009

A meal offering in a pan

Shikoku - part 2

It must have been written in the stars. I bet that had I read my horoscope it would have said something like "In the next couple of days you'll have lots of pizza."

I arrived in Tokushima City early enough to see the town in the day-light. My hotel was above the train tracks and all I had to do to reach the reception was simply to follow a few arrows. But you know I still managed to get lost inside this one building that hosted my room on the 13th floor of the hotel, a 5-story mall, and the hall of the train station.

Since the hotel had several restaurants all with prohibitive prices, I decided to go look for a place to eat dinner outside of the building. So here I am with my colorful knitted yarmulka and my faithful pocket dictionary, entering the local Tokushima Tourist Information Bureau. I always carry my pocket dictionary with me. I love to phrase the questions in Japanese, and I always try to formulate them in a way that requires simply a Yes/No answer or, at the most, that can be answered with an adverb or simple phrase. For some obscure reason the answer is always much, much longer and usually contains words not listed in my 48,000 words pocket dictionary.

The island of Shikoku is the place where Japanese Buddhists go on the "88 Temples pilgrimage" and the trail starts in the outskirts of Tokushima City. I was therefore under the impression that finding shoojin ryori, food for pilgrims, i.e. strictly vegetarian, would be easy. Of course I was wrong but, when I labored on putting together the question "Is there nearby any place where one can eat shoojin ryoori," I didn't know it. To my surprise one of the employees of the Tourist Information Bureau was another gai-jin, so I flung myself at him. To make a long story short, when I told him I needed vegetarian food his answer was: "Well, your best bet is Italian," and printed out a map showing the location of Mariisa - Itaria ryoori (Marisa - Italian Cuisine). Here it is again, my nemesis, Itaria ryoori. Then he asked: "Where are you from?" "Italy." And he, making that heavy aspiration sound that Japanese people do when they are about to disagree, said: "Oh. Then you shouldn't go eat there. It's really bad." 45 minutes later I had worked my way to Mariisa - Itaria ryoori, the last business open in a shopping area with a vaguely Middle Eastern souk flavor. Nobody inside. I told my self "No, it's not because food is bad. It's because it's the middle of the week." Probably it was empty because it was the middle of the week. And because the food was bad.

There is a very common gesture I've seen a lot since I'm here: right hand raised at face level, palm facing down, arm bent at 45 degrees, then the arm moves up and down for a couple of times. This gesture means something like "No. You may not" and I believe that the speed at which the hand moves is proportional to the strength of the negation. After reading the menu at Mariisa I told the waitress that because of my religion I am not allowed to eat most of the things on the menu (let's not talk about the look on her face upon hearing this statement, a mixture of "Why would I care?" "Are you crazy?!" and "Loooooser!!!") and I asked if I could have a pasta with mushroom without shrimp. Hand up and down. Could I have the pasta and beans without the sausage? Hand up and down. Could I have the pasta with tuna without the shrimp? Hand up and down. I don't know if it was a nervous tic, but the poor girl kept shaking her hand up and down, no matter which item on the menu I was asking. I reached the point when I started asking just for the fun of it, inquiring even about items I wouldn't want to eat, to see where the breaking point was, when would she crack and say yes. When I got up to leave she said "pizza" and basically told me that they could make a pizza with anything I wanted. So I ordered pizza with mushroom, cheese (crossing my fingers), onions and tomato sauce. Some 20 minutes later the waitress arrived holding a frying pan and a spatula. My pizza was ready. Voila: fried deep-dish pizza, with a thick layer of a white gooey substance (crossing my fingers didn't really work), a can of mushrooms with much of their water, huge chunks of still raw onion, and sweet sauce. My hand felt this really strong urge to go up and down, but I stopped it and ate my last botched pizza for the day: it was getting late and I did not want to miss a local dance troupe of Awa Odori (this link will teach you much more you ever wanted to know about the Awa Odori).

To read about my Awa Odori experience, you'll have to wait for the next post.

1 comment:

Israel B said...

What I wouldnt do for a real New York pizza place here! I'll talk to you about it after Yom Kippur. See you in 12 hours or so.