Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eel and Liver

Beef Liver Sashimi
courtesy of shinnygogo
from Flickr

Grilled Eel on Rice
courtesy of ksuyin
from Flickr
Tuesday June 12, 8:33 p.m.

Beef Liver sashimi, or rebasashi in the Japanese vernacular, is frankly something that I gag at. Not to the levels that Arthur Fonzarelli reacted when he came across the stuff on a special episode of "Happy Days", (yes, I was indeed alive at that time) but liver, even in its cooked form, has been my culinary enemy since birth. So, you can imagine my feelings about the raw stuff. It's a family thing. My parents just scrunched up their faces when they saw the dish on NHK as its fans gleefully let the stuff slide down their throats like so many giant leeches.

However, that glee will soon be gone in another 2 or 3 weeks. As of July 1, raw liver will no longer be served at any eating establishment because of the government's fears over food poisoning. A number of food poisoning incidents at restaurants in the recent past sparked the ban. There are nothing like news reports showing food alongside microscopic photos of virulent bacteria to get the bureaucrats drafting new policy. Now, as I've said, I'm no fan of liver but I'm always a little antsy when it comes to Big Brother telling us what to eat and what not to eat, and so I do feel a little sorry for those folks who love rebasashi now that what they look forward to at an izakaya will no longer be there. Of course, they can buy beef liver at the supermarket and prepare it, but there's a difference getting a professionally-cooked steak and throwing a supermarket T-Bone on the pan. According to the NHK report, one restaurant has been trying out a substitute using konnyaku (devils-tongue jelly), but the reporter said that although it has the texture, the taste is just not the same.

Then, there are the current trials and tribulations about the eel industry. Eel (unagi) is something that I do love: grilled and covered with sweet-savory sauce and placed on a bed of rice. But in recent years, the industry has been suffering somewhat in terms of supplies. So, the prices have had to go up, and some restaurants that specialize in eel have had to bite the bullet and provide alternatives to hold the bottom line. One place is serving butadon (pork on rice) with the slices of tender pork slathered in the same sauce used for the eel. So far, so good. But this situation along with the one involving beef liver is perhaps speaking to a sea change in Japanese food culture.