One Fish, Two Fish, Oh No, Blue Fish

You know how you go out to a restaurant, order a meal, and then it comes out cooked and all around ready to eat? Funny story.

Ordering off a menu in Japan where we have a tenuous grip on the language  is always a mumble gamble. I see the kanji for chicken…but then what are all those characters after it?

“I’ll have the [murmermurmer] chicken.”

“You mean the chicken [somethingsomething]?

“Yep, that’s the one.”

And then we wait, and then it’s chickenmurmersomethingorother, and it’s delicious. Or, it’s chicken womb.

A great meal swings on the hinge of chance?

In Kyoto last weekend, my finger got stuck in the hinge, and then when I tried to pull it out, my pants ripped, but then it turned out that I was already naked. You know how the old Abraham Lincoln saying goes.

Ang and I were snacking at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. One of those classy ones, where there’s no reason for the conveyor belt because everyone is ordering their meals off iPad menus.

There was a giant fish tank behind the sushi chef. The tank had a strong current, and the fish were swimming with purpose, swiftly. It was a nice touch. In Japanese, you’d say the place was moody.

But then a panel opened behind the tank, a net went in, a fish came out, and a chef in the back kitchen was waving a horse mackerel at us (Angie).

Our chef told us, “Oh, you have to try the [mumblescrumble] aji. It’s our specialty.”

“Oh it’s [somethingmumble] aji? Sure, good.”

“Really? Wow. Ok. Grrreat,” the chef said, now slipping into his only English.

Net in, fish out, horse mackerel waved at us (Angie).

The chef in the back disappeared.

“This is where he goes and kills the fish,” I said expertly, stupidly, feeling a little bad that we had sentenced a fish to its death.

The expertly carved sashimi came out with the fish carcass presented on the plate, a macabre garnish we’re used to at this point.

We went in with our chopsticks, and the fish carcass wriggled. Then the fish carcass tried to breath. Then the still-very-much-alive fish didn’t really do much of anything, because it’s pretty hard to move when someone carves off most of you.

Ang let out a little whoop of a nervous giggle, like if Annie Oakley saw someone slip on a banana peel.

I let out a “whooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaarbfl.”

No, I didn’t keep my cool, because I was uncomfortable keeping an animal alive just so it can watch itself being eaten. Yes, I continued to eat the fish, because rule number one of dining etiquette is to not let your meal see itself go to waste.

We ate slowly, just hoping the mackerel would stop moving, but also dreading the moment when it would stop moving.

A waitress came by and said they would fry the skeleton for us when we were done eating. We decided the best we could do by the fish was to put him down quickly. We shoved the sashimi in our mouths and let the waitress take the fish to his deep-fried grave.

Feel free to discuss the ethics of this in the comments. I’m going to watch a video of a chimp washing a cat for the next 30 minutes.


7 thoughts on “One Fish, Two Fish, Oh No, Blue Fish

  1. When I was 15 I went on a trip to China (this was in 1981, just after it opened its doors again). One night, for reasons I don’t remember now, our group of clueless Alaskans found ourselves at a very fancy ballroom filled with 20-tops, about to be served a first-class dinner. Every person at each table had his or her own personal waiter. One of the courses was a very large, very much still alive, fish on a lazy susan. Our waiters spun that thing around, lopped off pieces of said alive fish, and served them to us with a flourish. By the time it got to me I was looking through the fish’s still gaping mouth and could see the person on the other side of the table looking just as horrified as I was. But we were polite and took bites and turned to our waiters and nodded and smiled. Amazingly, it took another eight or nine years before I became a vegetarian.

  2. I noticed that there is not a link to this restaurant, so I assume it will not be on your list of recommended places to dine. I am glad that we did not discover this one with Marcy and Lynn. I think Kevan and I would have found it amusing. Nothing better than really fresh fish.

  3. I saw the exact same thing on a documentary last week, about a fish fanatic from UK travelling around Japan. He was a teeny bit surprised at his meal! I admire your strong stomach.

  4. Pingback: Kyoto is for Eaters, Again « Saké Puppets

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