Basashi. I sat there at the window seat of an izakaya restaurant in a momentary daze, eyes fixed to several morsels of red meat neatly arranged in a cascading row on my plate. Basashi: “what brought me to this point?”, I silently asked myself. What could bring a south side Chicago boy, raised to flee the horrors of raw meat, to a table across the Pacific situated in a restaurant specializing in that very threat? Then I remembered: it was my last day teaching English to a very kind Ibaraki business man and “no” was not an option.
What is Basashi? The dish consists of thin slices of horse meat dipped in soy sauce with ginger and onions–wait, back up, did you say horse meat? Yes, horse meat. Is this reason to freak out? It honestly depends on where you’re from in the world, even more your upbringing. Horse is a taboo food in some countries and I can count the number of times I’ve heard of anyone from my hometown eating it on my imaginary finger. Still, ‘when in Rome…’ is the missionary mantra and I had maxed out my two or three gracious refusals common in Japanese culture. My host was persistent. “I love Basashi,” he declared, “you just have to try it!” I looked to his wife sitting next to him for support. She sat waiting with a smile, hands folded in her lap. With a sigh, I manned up and remembered that desire to grow to know the Japanese people and share in their culture as much as possible. Grasping the moist sliver of meat between my chopsticks, I dipped it in the soy sauce and ginger, then tossed it back, swallowing after two munches.
My host smacked his lips in mild disappointment. Hey, trying a new food is one thing, but savoring? Not on the first go man. After the meat vanished into my stomach, the taste still lingered on my palate. It wasn’t bad, just not what I’m used to eating: cooked meat. The flavor was gamey, a wild taste that could only have come from the animal’s diet on, well, whatever it is that horses eat. Still, I was glad I could finally pin this merit badge on and I slumped back in my seat. My student’s eyes brightened again. “How was it?” he asked. “Not bad,” I said, “though I couldn’t eat this everyday, week or month.” He chuckled and shook my hand. I thanked him and his wife for taking me out and helping me to try something that I never would have on my own. His wife smiled. “Good job” she said with a polite nod, “I hate basashi.”