I think the time has come for a brief reminisce about Japan; it was inevitable it would start sooner or later. Of all the things I miss about Japan – the people, the alienation, the chaos, the cosmos, the tradition, the modernity, the vast underground streets, all the usual stuff – the thing I miss the most is the food. Specifically one type of food.
I ate out regularly; nearly every day. Sometimes in groups and sometimes on my own. I would just wander around the different areas of Osaka. Ducking down alleyways in search of street food – takoyaki, okonomiyaki – and into obscure izakaya. The best of the izakaya was a chain that we westerners all called two-eighty bars. I have no idea what they were actually called as I never learned to read Japanese writing and never thought to ask anyone. We called them 2.80s because everything on the menu cost 280円 (at the time this was about £1.40, but is now more like £2). A huge range of fantastic meaty, fishy, fried, weird delights, and massive tankards of beer, and they stayed open until about 4am every night. You sat at your table and rang a bell every time you needed a waiter.
One night early in my stay I went to a 2.80 with my flat mate, a couple of other Western lads and some Japanese, and one of the local ladies asked me if I had ever had takowasa. I hadn’t and said so, and got the old “ahh, you are not Japanese! You must have takowasa.” I said sure. So we rang the bell and she asked for a few bowls of takowasa. It arrived quickly, and looked like nothing I have ever seen that could be described as food. I was a tiny bowl with a lump of goopy gray splat sitting on a nettle leaf; tiny pieces of chopped raw octopus smothered in a pickle/wasabi sauce. I had no reservations about this at all. I swept up the chopsticks and popped a piece of takowasa in my mouth. Chewy, but hard, slimy and full of wasabi heat. I was instantly addicted. As my Japanese fellow diners tucked in, they laughed at me in my glasses waving my chopsticks around like a wand, and called meハリーポッター (Hari Pota).
I ate takowasa at every opportunity and ranted and raved about it to anyone who would listen. Then I came back to England and alas takowasa has vanished from my world. No restaurants serve it; nowhere serves raw octopus of any sort. A Google search for it reveals barely a hint of its existence, except some delicious or disgusting (depending on your taste) photos, and a single badly written recipe. None of the Japanese or Asian markets in Manchester sell it (I have a suspicion it might be sold in jars, but can’t confirm this), and most have never even heard of it.
I’m going to have to try making, and storing some myself, however I am reluctant to try this. Both raw octopus, and homemade food kept long term in jars, are infamous for feeding dangerous bacteria. Is it worth risking death for? ...probably. But in the meantime, if anyone in Japan can find it in jars, please send me some and I’ll reward you handsomely.
And what exactly does this gloriously disgusting food look like? Ta-dah!: