Thursday 9 August 2018

Japan and Italy, Japan in Italy: Noodles, Mikado, and Internal Organs

A few months ago I did two special posts on the relationship between Italy and Japan and introduced Italian culture, including food, coffee, and films, in Japan. This was partly motivated by a recent spurt in viewers from Italy, particularly mysterious spikes of 60 views every two or three days (perhaps a university class?). In terms of total all-time views, Italy is currently in second place behind Japan at 5,006! Unfortunately, I'm still no closer to unravelling the mystery of my Italian fan-base (do drop me a line in the comment box!) but I'll continue the Italy/Japan theme, this time looking at Japanese culture in Italy.

This summer, I was lucky enough to spend a week in Italy, 2 days in Rome and 5 days in Florence. In terms of Japanese food, sushi and noodles seem to be the most popular and I spotted quite a few ristorante giapponese (pictured). The Japanese pavilion was apparently very popular at expo Milano in 2015 (in Japanese these kind of international expositions are called banpaku =万博). Even small supermarkets stocked Kikkoman soy sauce and instant cup/pot-noodles (pictured) and for those with a sweet tooth there were Pocky stick-biscuit chocolates (covered here) though the name, and packaging had been changed: in Italy they were called Mikado (!) and had a giant rising sun on the package!! There were also some rice-puff biscuits called (wait for it) Nippon, again featuring a mini rising sun.
One of my favourite places in Florence was the Central Market (Mercato Centrale) which had all sorts of amazing produce such as fish, meat, cheese, olive oil, spices, dried fruit and nuts, truffles, fresh fruit, and panforte (a Tuscan chewy dried fruit and nut cake which was a great souvenir - or omiyage =お土産 - for my Japanese friends). For those Japanese tourists worried about fitting all these omiyage into their suitcase - Japanese buy a lot of presents for people back home - I even spotted a Japanese takkyūbin (home delivery service) flag on one of the market stalls (pictured)! Upstairs is something of a hidden gem, a food court with all sorts of pastries, sandwiches, and coffee, perfect for a cheap breakfast. In fact, a new sushi shop was due to open - another taste of Japan in Italy.

Staying in Florence, one of my favourite local snacks was the lampredotto sandwich (panino), traditional street food in Florence made from tripe (the stomach of a cow) which has been slow-cooked in a vegetable broth and seasoned with herbs. One vendor had a sign (pictured) explaining this local delicacy in Japanese. The sign explained it was a regional speciality or meibutsu (名物). This particularly resonates with Japanese tourists since almost every region in Japan will have its own meibutsu, whether food or handicraft, which are popular choices for omiyage. It also explained the sandwich in terms Japanese would understand - the sign says motsu-nikomi (もつ煮込み) sando where motsu means the innards of an animal and nikomi means stewed. Japanese, like Florentines, love their internal organs, as exemplified by dishes such as motsu-nabe (hot-pot). Buonissimo!