As we waited for the bus, Lynn and I recalled the noisy neighbors and laughed over our meal experience the evening before.
“Maybe the chicken was an omen about the Chinese,” she said.
We had walked up and down the main drag near our hotel seeking a good restaurant, then any restaurant.
I had arrived in Japan anticipating I’d be able to eat sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was aware there were other Japanese foods, like tempura and ramen, but that was about it. I thought all Japanese food was healthy, lean, and fresh.
Every guide will recommend eating kaiseki in Kyoto. Kaiseki is a type of Japanese haute cuisine that features local, in-season foods. We never had it because it was too expensive. On the evening in question, we found a basement-level kaiseki restaurant despite its best efforts to hide, but the set meals started at around $70 per person.
“The guides said to eat kaiseki at lunch, when it’s a lot cheaper,” I said as I read the board. But the lunches on offer here started at $50 per person. “I’m sure it’s wonderful, but fifty bucks for lunch?”
“And we have to make a reservation,” Lynn read. “We only have two days left.”
“What if it turned out to be 50 bucks worth of that grey, shredded-tire-like stuff?”
We walked on. There was an Irish pub and an Italian pizza joint. Several Japanese places were already closed. The only Japanese-style restaurant open was a steak place.
“I hadn’t expected the beef here to be so fatty,” Lynn said. “It makes sense; fatty beef is more tender. But it really is different from British beef.”
“I’m starving. Okay with you if we just eat at the pizza place? At least it’ll be familiar and we can order fast.”
We sat at the bar. Lynn had no trouble ordering but I don’t eat pork, and most of the menu items involved pork.
“I’ll have this,” I told the waiter, jabbing my finger at the “personal pizza with chicken chops.”
“What are chicken chops?” Lynn tried to suppress her laughter.
“I don’t know!” I chuckled. “For some reason it sounds hilarious, and more ominous than something specific, like chicken feet, or chicken beaks.”
Whatever they were, they were raw. I looked down at a pizza covered in chicken meat oozing with blood.
“How ghastly! That can’t be right!” Lynn exclaimed.
With Lynn’s help I managed to flag down the waiter and ask him to cook the chicken more. He looked at me, puzzled, but took my plate and returned it with the chicken still pink but not bloody.
“I can’t eat this,” I said, “I feel bad because I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater.”
“Well there’s adventurous, and there’s salmonella,” said Lynn.
I removed the chicken chops and tried to eat the pizza, but just the thought of chicken blood oozing into the crust made me gag.
However, for the rest of our lives, whenever Lynn or I want to crack each other up, all we have to say is chicken chops. It’ll be one of those little inside jokes no one else gets.
We arrived at the bus stop where we were to meet our cooking teacher almost an hour early. There was nothing around but a little tea shop set in a lovely, wild garden, so we stepped in for another tea break. We were the only customers and the elderly proprieter talked to us a while about the garden that he and his wife had spent a lifetime developing. It was serene.
Back at the bus stop, a young man approached and stuck out his hand to introduce himself. We had corresponded over email. “I am Taro,” he said. Then he spun around and walked briskly through alleys and streets, turning so many times we would have never found our way back to the bus stop if we lost him.
“Here we are,” he said as he invited us into his house. His was the only Japanese house I would see the inside of.
We washed our hands and then sat at a table, ready to learn and be put to work.