"Ewww ...don't let him eat that. He will just spit it out," is what I told my husband when my son, who was then just 20 months old, wanted to try the salmon roe on the sushi conveyor belt. We were in Kyoto, Japan for a visit, and my son had been pretty adventurous so far, but I was sure that those bright orange fish eggs were going to push him over the edge. However, my son was going to be full of surprises this trip.
From the first burst of salty, orange liquid in my son's mouth, he was hooked. Everywhere we went in the city he wanted it, even the steak house. No such luck kid. Steak houses only serve steak.
The thing you need to know about Japanese cuisine is that it is highly specialized. The sushi restaurant only sells sushi. The tempura place makes only tempura. Soba has its own house, as well as udon and ramen. We learned a lot during our stay about the cuisine, and most of it was thanks to my son.
Salmon roe was just the start, and by far his favorite, but he was willing to try more. He wanted his own okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese pancake made with cabbage, and usually topped with some sort of meat. More pork please mommy? Why yes son, you can have as much as you want. There were more vegetables in this pancake than anything we would ever find at home. He wanted to try my salmon steeped in tea soup, yakisoba (a noodle dish) and naturally had to have his own plate of fried veggies, otherwise known as tempura. Traditional dishes weren't all he had his eye on either.
Through desperation, and a tip from a friend, we headed to the basement of Kyotos department stores more often than we stepped into restaurants around town. It was just too hard some days to sit down with a very tired baby after a long day of exploring shrines and temples. Below the cashmere scarves, Fendi purses, and gold charm necklaces, the most exquisite food counters you can imagine overwhelmed us. Think of the make-up and perfume department at a U.S. department store and you may come close. Half of the floor contained glass display cases filled with breads, salads, meats, and vegetables, including one pricey melon. Naturally my son was drawn to the other half of the shop floor, which was home to the delectable French pastries, chocolates, mochi, and cakes that would fill a large part of our diets each day. We were walking miles through the city, so I didn't feel too bad about the extra calories.
One thing we knew we would have to find, but isn't always a staple in Asian culture, was milk for my son. He was an addict. He had to have it, especially when we yanked him out of his usual routine to travel to the other side of the world. Thankfully the ever popular, and U.S. known quickie mart 7-11 was our savior one to three times a day. We could pop in for a pint of milk, the clerk automatically gave a straw to us, and we handed both to my son to enjoy in his stroller while we continued on our adventure.
Many of the grocery stores and quickie marts also sold things like soft bread, peanut butter, and cereal, which did help with our morning routine, but for the most part my son ate his weight in local food. Now that he is a bit older and has hit that lovely picky eater stage all parents are warned about, he isn't as keen to dive into a plate of salmon roe, but his favorite sick day soup is still miso, and he can knock out a plate of tempura like it's nobody's business. My husband and I learned that you really can't guess what a baby will like until you give them a chance to try. Oh, and if it happens to be on your plate, nine times out of ten your child will want to eat it, even if he has the same thing on his plate. Although, if it happens to be bright orange and filled with salty goodness, you may find your baby being braver than you are as he pops one fish egg after another into his mouth.
Would you consider a trip to Japan with young kids?