Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sampling Monja for the first time


Just when you think you’ve seen and done it all in a country, you find something new that you aren’t familiar with. On Thursday night with my friend Kame, I tried Monjya for the first time. For those who don’t know, monjya is made from fried mochi, which is a heavy paste that is often translated as “rice cake.” But the chunks of mochi are only the beginning, as other minced vegetables, meats, and sauces are thrown in before the mix is poured and flattened on the table’s large griddle and sprinkled with cheese.

Cheese is what makes monja unusual, as it is virtually absent from almost every other Japanese food. Cheese is definitely here in Japan, but it isn’t present in most of their foods, and I think most Japanese people wouldn’t know what to do with it if their lives depended on it. The schools sometimes serve up cheese based dishes for lunch, and their lack of endearing flavors betrays the Japanese incompetence with cheese. The Japanese should stick with raw fish, consumer electronics, and stylish cartoons, not delve into making foods with cheese.

The most entertaining part about eating monja however, is getting it from the fryplate into your mouth. You use a tiny spatula (about the size of a dessert spoon) to cut and scoop pieces off the cake of frying monja into your mouth. It requires a deft process of cutting, flipping upside down and pressing it into the pan to make the monja flake stick to your tiny spatula. If you don’t do it exactly right, you will never get the monja off the plate, or it will fall into your lap and get greasy cheese all over yourself. I embarrassed myself throughout the evening.

But I still had a fun time catching up with my friend Kame. She works in a retail store by the station as an assistant manager. She showed me some pictures after just finishing a trip to a forested peninsula off the coast of Kansai. Looked like fun.

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