Though it may sound fancy that I would travel half-way around the world to see an opera, I cannot deny possessing a persistently pedestrian dimension, as well. Unless I'm hunting for antiques (in which case I remain adamantly on-task), I enjoy letting Kismet take the lead—to see what I can discover by taking random turns in the street.
When walking through foreign shopping districts—whether arcades, malls or supermarkets—I find myself drawn to the humble, quotidian goods which local people need most regularly. I am mesmerized in the Japanese packaged candy aisle, the bold and colorful graphics calling-out to me (loudly, though I am not sure what they're saying). Foreign kitchen gadgets are another thrill. And don't get me started on stationery; I cannot pass-up oddly shaped paperclips or unusual composition books.
Sometimes I even surprise myself with an adventurous, quick and simple lunch! Yesterday, as I wandered the labyrinthine warren of shopping alleys around the Kobe-Sannomiya Train Station, I encountered a downward stairway beckoning to me: "Gourmet Food Plaza." It was around 11:30 am and the shopkeepers were beginning their lunch rotations. I'm a shopkeeper myself; I know the luncheon requirements: fast, tasty and inexpensive. The claustrophobic basement certainly was not any kind of a "plaza." And "gourmet" would be a vast overstatement. But there was food. And there were plenty of customers. Down the hall, on the left, I saw a tonkatsu curry counter. The patrons were obscured by a dusty, faded half-curtain. And I could see that there was one open stool at the counter—it seemed meant to be.
There were only three items on the menu, and only one item which I recognized, so I ordered it. Tonkatsu is a pork cutlet, breaded in panko crumbs and dipped into scalding oil (which, I figured, had to kill any germs, right?). Served with rice and three ladles of curry gravy, it was a quick, delicious and absolutely authentic workingman's meal (and under $6.00, thanks to an advantageous exchange rate). I sat at the counter, absorbing the gritty atmosphere, appreciating my unexpected bravery, and listening to classics of American Seventies pop music crackling out of tinny speakers (Dan Fogelberg, The Eagles, England Dan & John Ford Coley). The counter lady didn't speak a word of English and, yet, I did all right. The grizzled cook seemed to be intrigued that a "gaijin" should stumble into his lunch counter.
24 hours on, I feel no worse for wear. And I'm proud of myself for having navigated the foreign waters of eating amongst the locals.
More from Japan tomorrow.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248