June is the first month since I left Asia 19 months ago that I have not spent at least a couple days in Japan. Instead, I hosted four groups of Japanese in the US and took one group to Argentina. In years past, my older guests from Japan would always request I find a Japanese restaurant or, if that wasn’t an option, Chinese food. The post war generation seemed to fear the size of American portions and the taste of small town food. These days my guests are younger and much more open to testing the limits of their appetites.
One of the new rites of passage for my guests from the other side of the Pacific is eating a big American steak at Del Frisco’s after a “Shellfish Tower” appetizer and perhaps a platter of squid (aka “Shanghai Calamari”). Dinner is normally finished off with a large dessert and talk of diets starting the next day (or week). Instead of sake, red wine is the drink of choice after the obligatory beer toast.
I guess in a world where a very thin Japanese won the Coney Island July 4th hot dog eating contest several years in a row vs. Americans more than 2.5 times his body weight – I should not be shocked when my friends and customers who are used to eating small portions of sashimi, sushi, noodles or 100 grams of steak in their home country suddenly gorge on 700 to 800 gram steak portions in the US after eating several oysters, king crab and large portions of bread.
Perhaps it is simply the basic human desire to “try something different” that drives the sudden mass consumption of calories. Last night, before we finished dinner, one of my guests asked me if I could arrange some “famous” Carolina barbeque for lunch the following day. I am not sure what guidebook was consulted in his pre trip preparation but there was no question in this person’s mind that eating “pulled” pork and hush puppies was a critical part of judging the success of his trip. This afternoon, my svelte friend ate hush puppies as a starter and polished off a large combo plate with barbecued pork, beef and chicken. In between courses, he sampled a platter of fried catfish that I ordered and thought should be part of his culinary resume. The only disappointment faced by my friends from Osaka was that the food could not be washed down with beer – which is not available in this small town restaurant. Why not drink a few beers at lunch in America since it is 1am Japan time?
My Facebook page is well documented with pictures of the eating triumphs of my friends from the East. Normally it takes less than five minutes after I post an eating photo for the “likes” to start appearing from Japanese cyberspace. Eating too much in America seems to be the Japanese version of “when in Rome, …..”
As I drove my guests back to their hotel this afternoon, they dozed off in a haze of jet lag and caloric overload. Just before nodding off; they began to contemplate the challenge of not napping through their 3PM meeting and getting mentally prepared for another American dinner.