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From Junk Food to Japanese Cuisine

I was raised on junk food, though I didn’t realize it when I was growing up and at home with my dad and my mom. We lived all over the U.S.: from Seattle to Fort Wayne and Blacksburg, Virginia. My dad was in the military and we shopped for meat and potatoes at the commissary. I finally got it that I was eating mostly carbs after I met Atsuko and we started to live together and then especially after we got married. But old habits die hard. Even when veggies were on the table I reached for the steak. I was almost 30 when I first heard about tofu. I took a tour of a tofu factory in Arcata and tried the free sample. I liked it. We were living in the Mendocino National Forest and we’d go all the way to the Coop in Ukiah to buy Tofu and Japanese vegetables. Atsuko would make stir fry with mazuna and serve daikon which actually tastes pretty good. Americans usually mess it up cause they don’t know how to do it right.

I’ve noticed that young people in our society are starting to learn the value of eating properly. My 16-year-old daughter, Millie, eats pretty good. Her brother Milo, 12, is a junk food junkie. He rides his skateboard and eats Doritos the whole time. Both of my kids inherited the Munson fat gene. I really got into Japanese food and so did Millie when we went to Japan and had to eat what the Japanese eat. Of course there was some American food. At the McDonalds, I had a tofu burger. When I ate with my relatives on Hakodate, the north island, I learned to love fish. Japan is all islands; almost every place has a sea port and the fishermen are super friendly.

For the longest time, I thought fish was horrible. You have to know how to cook it properly. I like tempura a lot, and I love shrimp, crab and lobster, but I stay away from sushi. Once, I went out to a restaurant with my father-in-law, Shungi, now 91, and shared an $82 crab. He ate the brains, I had the rest. Another time, we took a ferry to Hokkaido, the north island. When we arrived I asked a cabby to take us to the best restaurant, which he did. It was only five or so blocks away from where we landed, and in a plain wrapper building.

This was winter and it was cold as fuck. Inside, we took off our shoes, put on house slippers, admired the aquarium with every kind of fish imaginable swimming around, sat on the floor and covered our legs with a heated blanket. The Japanese think of everything, except they didn’t with the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. That’s a story for another occasion. On Hokkaido, that’s where I saw the $82 crab, which was 3-feet across, and asked Shungi, “You wanna help me destroy it?” We did and we shared a pizza, too. Curiously, the same place made good pizzas. Probably the best meal I had in Japan was a ramen prepared by a 300-pound chef who had his hair in a net and wore a white apron. Dessert was corn flakes with strawberries, whipped cream and maple syrup served in a measuring cup. At a remote restaurant that catered to motorcyclists, the chef made a ramen with egg, onion, daycon and pork, sliced extra thin. I couldn’t think I could eat the whole thing, but I did and the next day we didn’t travel at all. I couldn’t move.

The whole time we were there, I was curious about the Japanese and their culture and the Japanese were curious about us, especially my daughter, Millie, who tells me she thinks she’s 70% sure she’s asexual, doesn't like guys and says that even though girls are pretty they’re still difficult. “Imagine being a girl and in a relationship with another girl!” she said.

“No thanks.” In Japan, Millie spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her grandmother who’s a pretty good cook. Like many Japanese, she likes to keep busy, makes her own noodles and serves a great fried chicken.

If and when we got hungry we would go to a little shop on the side of the road — like a taco truck — and order these delicious potato patties that are dipped in egg and in panko and deep fried and served with Okonomi sauce on top and wrapped in paper. They’re firm enough to hold in your hand and soft enough to pull apart easily. The last meal I can remember was at the restaurant of a guy named Miata Koichi who owns a bunch of hemp clothing stores and also has a restaurant. We splurged; $300 for beef cooked on a hibachi. I’d go back to Japan in a heartbeat, but with the pandemic I’m staying close to home and eating my wife’s wonderful cooking.

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