“Tom, you`re from Igirisu aren`t you?”
“Yes, I am”
“Why is Igirisu food so mazui (disgusting)?”
This was my first conversation with Maruku, a Japanese man who moved into the guesthouse 6 months ago. The directness of his questions surprised me, but I did not mind; he was drunk, and he had a point.
Igirisu food is mazui. When I think of Igirisu food, I imagine stodgy sausages, bland vegetables – boiled of any flavour, and watery lukewarm gravy. I do not miss Igirisu food. It is mazui.
However, I object to somebody telling me my country`s food is mazui. Especially when that person is from a country that eats pineapple sandwiches, chocolate cheese-coated squid, and the eyeballs of 6 foot tunafish.
So, I am fighting back. First of all, I have changed my nation`s name. I am no longer from Igirisu イギリス – the word many Japanese use for the UK. Written in katakana , it is ugly, like amateur graffitti, and it sounds too much like grease and gristle.
Now I tell people I am from Eikoku, a term less frequently used than Igirisu, but more regal, more demanding of respect – it even has its own chinese characters 英国.
Away from teh grease and gristle of Igirisu food, Eikoku cuisine has style and substance: crispy cornish pasties, pregnant Scotch eggs and a slender slices of treacle tart. Unfortunately, while my mind salivates over these foods allday, I am a dreadful cook. I can`t reproduce Eikoku`s finest.
The only thing I can rustle up is mashed potato with boiled carrots and cabbage. Last week, out of desperation and misplaced patriotism, I made it for members of my guesthouse. It got a pretty good reception, especially the mash topped with melted cheese.
There was only one awkward moment.
“So, what flavourings are you going to add to it?”, Kyoto asked me, peering over my shoulder and looking down into the saucepan.
“What do you mean?”
“Like soy or salt or something, what flavourings?”
I had no idea what he meant. Flavourings? I thought all I needed to do was boil. The only flavouring I could think of was tomato ketchup, but I did not have any. So, in desperation, I went on the offensive.
“Look, unlike Japanese food, Eikoku food does not require the use of additional flavourings. The quality of our cooking and the freshness of our ingredients mean the food tastes good enough as it is.”
That gave me a temporary break, but the verdict is still out on Eikoku cuisine.