One of the perks of working at a public Junior High School is the school lunch. In America, from what I remember, public school lunches were nothing special, just the same old mass-produced, high-fat content stuff over and over again (pizza, corn dogs, fries, hamburgers, etc.) But thanks to the Japanese cultural penchant for providing school lunch menus that are different every single day, I (Mike) get the chance to eat all kinds of wonderful, authentic Japanese foods. Every day is a surprise, and at least every week I get fed something new and moderately exciting. So far, the list of new foods I have been exposed to includes things like burdock root, boiled chestnuts, taro root, Scotch Egg (a battered, deep-fried whole egg that is cut in two and eaten with sauce), different kinds of seaweed, mysterious greasy white hot dogs, wonderful salads containing corn and mini-sardines, etc. This is just a taste (pun intended) of the variety I enjoy here–and with the exception of the occasional corn dog (referred to here as “American Dogs”), most of it is pretty healthy.
But today’s school lunch takes the cake (again, pun intended). Apparently, today was the anniversary of the first school lunch in Japan (hooray!). That’s right, on this very day (January 24th) in 1946, during the post-WWII occupation period, the newly formed government established the first school lunches, and to celebrate, the School Lunch Center decided to serve up something really special: whale. That’s right; today I got to eat whale fritters –little fillets of whale meat that had been battered and deep-fried, and served with Worcestershire Sauce. I actually ate mine all up without noticing what it was, and when somebody told me it was whale, I was a bit disappointed that I had eaten it all without paying closer attention to it. So (bless their hearts) they offered me more! In total, I ate three whale fritters today, and they were pretty good–the meat was an unusually dark color, and the texture was similar to tuna steak (go figure). Definitely a unique culinary experience.
One of my teachers explained that while in this day and age you can’t just go to the supermarket and buy whale meat, every year the Japanese government does scientific research on whales, and afterwards it distributes the meat to the public. Now, you tell any American person, “Here, have some whale, it’s leftover from a scientific experiment”, and see how fast they chuck that thing in the garbage disposal and hit you up with a battery of lawsuits. But not here; the attitude toward the whole issue is totally different. Granted, many of the kids here didn’t eat their whale, but many Japanese still see whale as something of a delicacy, despite the international hullabaloo. For those interested, follow this link to see what whale fritters look like and to see that the whole thing isn’t just an early fourth-of-July gag on my part: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4106688.stm .
Boy am I glad I decided to eat in the office with a few other teachers rather than at my desk alone, because I would have consumed my whale in blase ignorance and moved on with the rest of my life. Now, I can not only say I’ve seen a whale in school, but that rather than ending up in his belly, he ended up in mine!
This is the life.. 🙂
This blog is brought to you by Wally The Beluga Whale. Take it from Wally…
“I may be endangered… but I’m also delicious!!!”