Saturday, September 13, 2008

Oishi-desu, ne?

In Japan, one lives to eat, or at least one travels to eat, for every city or region is famed for some kind of delicacy which must be indulged in on a visit. (In our city Himeji, it was conger eel.)

It is also important that when you do travel someplace, to bring back omiyage-- a (n often edible) souvenir-- for friends and co-workers back home. It is a slight not do so, and every city-- and the train station in particular-- will have numerous gift shops full of such delights.

When we lived in Japan, I had a co-worker whose boyfriend was working in the city of Nagoya, and she'd often go to visit him on her days off. And though her visits were quite regular, she never dared an omiyage lapse, and she would usually bring us back uiro-- the snack for which Nagoya is famed. Uiro is a sweet snack of pounded rice, loaded with sugar. It comes in a block that appears kind of waxy, has a consistency not dissimilar to cheese, and I love it. I am a uiro glutton, which was fine as most people were unable to get past its strange appearance and texture, so there was always plenty for me. I still keep an eye out for it in the Asian shops around the city, but not a sign of it have I seen.

Last month before our neighbours left for their trip to Japan, I'd asked if they'd be going to Nagoya. I was being a bit flippant-- their trip would be a whirlwind, wedding and honeymoon all in one-- and really I just wanted a chance to reminisce about the pleasures of uiro. But I should have known-- Japanese people take omiyage very seriously, and any kind thing a Japanese person has ever done for me has been mindblowingly beyond the call of duty.

They got back this week, and we were hanging out in the backyard last night when I was presented a box of uiro. It turns out that their shinkansen had passed through Nagoya, making a brief stop. My neighbour asked the attendant how long the stop would be, and she said one minute and a half. My neighbour tells his wife, he's going to chance it. He says that if he doesn't get back on, he'll take the next train and meet her at the end of the line. But he makes it. In 90 seconds, he managed to buy my heart's desire, get back on the train, solidifying all suspicions I'd ever had regarding his superheroism. As well as his wife's patience, their generosity and all-around infinite goodness.

So we're savouring the uiro at the moment. Tiny slices, we want to make it last. What a fabulous surprise! It's as good as I remembered.