Content-Type: text/shitpost

Subject: “Oh, you ate that?”
Path: your-brain!your-host!ihnp4!kremvax!plovergw!shitpost!mjd
Date: 2017-12-05T16:39:01
Message-ID: <>
Content-Type: text/shitpost

My co-worker Martin Locklear informs me that “Лох-Несского” is actually pronounced “Loch-Nesskovo”, not “Loch-Nesskogo”, even though the “г” is clearly a “g” and not a “v”. And it also occurs to me that the “e” means that the vowel is iotized so that it is more like “Loch-Nyesskovo”. Whatever, this should give you an idea of how little Russian I know: just barely enough to convince someone who knows none at all that I know something, but not enough to be of any actual use.

This kinda reminds me of something interesting that happened to me a while back. In 2001 I was fortunate enough to be invited to Tokyo to teach classes for three weeks. One evening I went to a nearby restaurant, billed as a traditional-style yakitori pub. I don't know how traditional it was, all the other yakitori pubs I have been to have been less fancy and had less complicated menus, but whatever. Anyway I read no Japanese at all, but the menu had pictures of things so I ordered some things that looked like they might be good. One of the dishes I ordered was some deep-fried battered balls which I guessed would have something interesting inside.

The balls did prove to have something interesting at the center, but I could not identify what it was. It seemed vaguely familiar, and I thought I had eaten it before somewhere, but I could not place it. Whatever it was, it had no flavor, but a very distinctive texture: it was smooth and slippery, tough but yielding. If I bit down on it it would resist, then give suddenly as I bit it in two — chewable, but just barely. I spent quite a lot of that meal trying to figure out what was in those balls, and I eventually decided that I wasn't going to figure it out. My best guess was that it was fish vertebrae, which I had heard people would sometimes eat: it was tougher than meat, but not as tough as bone, so maybe?

(I did eat all of it. It was okay, and I have a strict rule that when visiting a foreign country I should always eat everything that is put in front of me. In many ways I am less polite as I would like to be, but to go into someone's home and then turn up my nose at their food seems inexcusably gauche. Also, I'm not going to eat other peoples’ food, why even travel in the first place? I might just as well stay home and go to the McDonald's on 40th and Walnut.)

I can't read or write Japanese but I sure can copy it and I carefully copied the name of this fried dish into my notebook. The next morning when I got to class I showed my notebook to the students and said “I had this for dinner last night. What did I eat?”

“Oh!” said one of my students. “You ate that?” That was an odd moment. He paused to think of how to say it in English. “Chicken knuckles.”

It turned out that inside those balls was the cartilage from in between the bones of a chicken. You know how sometimes you're eating a chicken drumstick and there's the connective tissue on the end of the joint and you might get it in your mouth? You could chew it up and swallow it. But it's quite tough, so probably you just spit it out. Except not in this case; it had been battered and fried. So that was why it seemed familiar: I had actually eaten this before — sort of.

But it's a good thing I can copy Japanese, or I would have had to keep wondering and it would have bugged me for years.