“I didn’t even know that there was a Japanese restaurant in Croatia, let alone in Dubrovnik,” answered the boy with a puzzled look on his face. “What do you think Japanese tourists eat when they come to Dubrovnik then,” I answered, trying not to laugh out loud. “Well, I guess...homemade, local Croatian food,” he answered without too much thought.
So this was going to be the first time that this ten-year-old, the son of my friend, was going to try a new international cuisine...this was going to be fun. “Is there really a Japanese restaurant in Dubrovnik,” he still wasn’t convinced. “Yes, of course there is, in fact there are more than one,” I replied. “So does that mean that we have lots of tourists from China, oh I mean Japan,” another question, and the mixture between China and Japan was going to be another theme of the evening. “What would you eat if you went on holiday to Japan then,” I was enjoying his train of thought. Without pausing to think he answered “Rice,” and then added “And maybe pasta.” He was obviously under the impression that all Japanese live off a fixed diet of rice, well he was half right.
“Do they have soup,” was the next question as we drove to the restaurant. This was a child raised on a strict diet of soup, main course and dessert. “We can ask the Japanese chef when we arrive,” I lied a little bit, for the chef wasn’t Japanese, but it was a white lie and he smiled. “Do you think they have čevapi,” now I was joking with him a little. “No, but maybe they have octopus or fish,” he said in a serious manner.
As we sat down at the table the first impression that hit him were the chops sticks. “How do you use these…I need a lesson before I can eat!” he exclaimed. I guess he had realized that Japanese don’t eat soup with them. If you have never eaten with chop sticks before then they do take a little getting used to. He took one stick in one hand and one in the other as if he was going to play the drums. These little wooden sticks fascinated him and far from just giving up he tried, and tried and tried. He kind of succeeded in the end, but in a way of spearing the food with one of the sticks rather than the traditional pinching motion.
“I don’t recognize anything on this menu, do they have a Croatian menu,” he asked. In fact he did already have a Croatian menu it was just that the pictures were alien to him.
“What’s sushi,” was the next question. This was one that we kind of avoided, better not to freak him out before he tried anything. We ordered some sushi rolls for starters and to his praise he tried to “catch” the rolls with his sticks. It was a messy affair. He was a serial killer and the chop sticks were his weapon of choice. The rolls soon disintegrated.
It is always nice to open a young person’s eyes to a new culture, new tastes, to broaden their horizons. “OK, that was the starter and now the main course, would you like chicken or beef,” I asked. Again he stared at the menu in disbelief. “Can I order,” he answered. The waiter appeared again. We all ordered and then Marin asked the waiter “Can I have chicken, but do you have it in a Croatian way,” he asked. We all stopped ourselves from bursting out in laughter. And in a move to calm him the waiter answered “It is chicken and rice with vegetables, I am sure you will like it.” He seemed to understand. “See I told you. The Chinese only eat rice,” he was pleased with himself now.
He reached for his mobile and opened his Pokémon game, maybe he was expecting to find these Japanese characters in their restaurant, maybe they were all hungry. The main course didn’t require chops sticks, to his obvious relief. “Do the Japanese have desserts,” was the final question. To which the answer was yes but he plumped for a chocolate and banana cake instead. So many new tastes and flavours, and to his credit he tried them all without flinching. “So tell me what are your impressions,” I asked. He rubbed his chin like an old man thinking. “I am glad I wasn’t born in Japan,” he answered.
Although I did find out a few days later from his mum that he was impressed with the food and hadn’t stopped boasting to his friends that he had eaten Japanese food...or maybe he said Chinese food.