Sushi has become one of the most popular lunch time options for busy workers in the last few years.
But there are some Japanese delicacies that are a lot less palatable than raw fish wrapped in seaweed and rice.
To research his new book, The Meaning of Rice, food writer Michael Booth and his family spent a year travelling – and eating – the length of Japan.
Along the way, they tried some of the strangest and most disgusting foods that are commonly eaten in Japan.
Michael has picked 10 of the weirdest, grossest but occasionally even delicious foods he and his family discovered while travelling – including rotting carp, still-wriggling squid and tea made from the faeces of silk worms.
This is funa zushi – feremented (ie rotting) carp. I’ve tried fermented herring (in Sweden – awful), fermented shark (Iceland – horrendous), but funa zushi, fermented carp from Lake Biwa, which is first packed in salt to ferment for a couple of years, then re-buried in steamed rice for further ‘ageing’ for up to two years, was ferociously bad!
Chicken ovaries and fallopian tubes. Yakitori chefs are masters of making the most of every part of the chicken. They eat the cartilage (‘nankotsu’ – like eating the packaging rather than the product), but this is my favourite part of the bird: eggs before their shells have formed
Silkworm lavae. Japan has a long history of eating insects, particular in Nagano, where we got to try these, cooked in sugar and soy (left). More challenging was a tea made from silk worm poo (right)
Fermented sea cucumber guts. We have a policy when we are travelling as a family that, within reason, we try anything once. That rule was sorely tested when we were confronted by super-pungent fermented sea cucumber guts but, actually, done well, this gloopy orange slime tastes great with sake
Squid beaks (left). One of the great joys of travelling in Japan, is the motorway service stations. In one, on Shikoku, alongside the energy drinks and chilled coffee, I spotted vaccuum packed squid beaks. Meanwhile, in Hakodate the delicacy is just-killed squid, which keeps moving as you consume it (right)
Raw horse. Horse sashimi is commonly eaten throughout Japan, with a richer flavour than raw beef. Can be lovely, but the ‘mane fat’ we tried in Matsumoto was virtually inedible
Monzuku. The Japanese have a much broader ‘texture palate’ than us – they like chewy, slimy things especially. Mozuku is a type of seaweed. I struggle with its snot-like texture, as I do with grated yam dish, ‘yamaimo’ and, even worse, the notoriously stinky fermented soy beans, ‘natto’
Shirkako. Called ‘milt’ in the UK and sadly rarely seen in fishmongers these days, it is the ‘seed’ of (usually) the male cod, with a beautiful smooth, creamy texture and fresh, ocean flavour. It’s one of my favourite things to eat, especially with a little ponzu dressing
Octopus and snake ice cream. My children will usually eat any flavour of ice cream but this, with actual chunks of octopus, proved resistible, as did the snake ice cream
Whale. Controversial I know, but the Japanese point out that the minke whale is not actually endangered. The whale ‘bacon’ is a bit chewy, but it’s pretty good deep fried
Tuna eyes. I spotted these for sale in the fish market in Tokyo
Eel spines. The Japanese eat every part of the eel too; the crunchy spines are excellent as a drinking snack, as are dried fugu fish fins
Fugu. Everyone knows about the ‘poisonous fish’, fugu, and it is true a couple of people do die every year from its toxins. Actually, the fish is quite bland, but works really well deep fried
Sea urchins. One of my absolute favourite things to eat are the innards of sea urchins. Technically, the bit you eat is the gonads. This is me with lots and lots of gonads, on the island of Hokkaido
The Meaning of Rice: And Other Tales from the Belly of Japan by Michael Booth, is out now (Jonathan Cape).