This story comes from someone who visited Japan recently. Even though the dal dhokli does not have fermented soybeans, it seemed fitting to place this story here, and show how different cultures could take the same food and come up with dishes that taste distinctly different.
As soon as we started planning our trip to Japan, I began wondering what we would eat. In Japan, just as in so many Asian cultures, food is just as big a part of the culture as family or religion. So, when we arrived, of course, the first thing we wanted to do was eat. We quickly realized that reading a menu and ordering is just as much an adventure as eating the food. Even though all the eateries had vividly colored picture menus or even plasticized food models in their windows, tempting every passer-by, it was impossible to tell what you would really get. And, since most Japanese speak only very broken English, we had to rely on our natural foodie instincts.
The best experience had to be at the traditional Japanese Ryokan-hotel in Hakone, at the base of Mount Fuji. There we slept on tatami mats, dressed in robes, and bathed in the healing mineral hot springs. Meals were served in the community dining area with views of the surrounding valley and village, covered in a misty fog (we never did see Mount Fuji - the clouds kept it hidden). Each meal was served with a feeling of old tradition and ritual - warm eucalyptus washcloths to prepare our senses, followed by mild ocha green tea to cleanse the palate. Then, an endless series of tiny plates surrounded us and filled the table with colors and aromas, and we had no choice but to dive in and try them. Eating is, of course, the best part of the traveling adventure, but sometimes itís better to see what happens when someone else jumps off the cliff first. The most mysterious, and least tempting, had to be the stinky fermented soybeans served at breakfast. The smell alone made us want to sit on the other side of the dining room - like a mixture of too old boiled peanuts and my husbandís used gym socks. Surely they wouldn't ruin a perfectly lovely morning with these monstrosities? But, there they were everyday, in all their fermented glory. Ted, who always jumps first, ate a spoonful before regretting it and quickly filling his mouth with soothing white rice. Needless to say, I left those for the locals who love them, and stuck with my pickled carrots, sweet red beans, and fresh fruit. The remainder of our meals there were a delightful combination of all flavors light, fresh, sweet and sour. And, as usual, we still talk about the food more than any other Japanese adventure.