After a long day of sightseeing in Himeji and Osaka, I decided that I should get some food before crashing for the night. By this time it was about 10:00pm, and I was hungry. My hotel is in an area filled with office buildings, so there wasn’t a large variety of restaurants available. I was about to settle for convenience store food, but decided instead to try out Sukiya, a gyudon chain restaurant.
I had never been to Sukiya before. Going into a new restaurant solo when you aren’t confident in your language ability can be a bit intimidating. I walked in and noticed counter seats around the cooking area, as well as a few tables. There was no ticket machine in the entrance. Usually this indicates that you should sit at the counter and order from there.
I took a seat at the far end of the counter, and started browsing the menu in front of me. There were various different styles of gyudon, which is delicious grilled beef and onions served on rice. I decided to order the kimchi gyudon set, which included a drink and miso soup.
A few minutes later I was presented with a big bowl of gyudon, a small bowl of miso soup, a glass of water, and a small bowl with an egg still in its shell, and a small empty bowl. I knew what to do with the gyudon, soup, and water, but had never been served an egg like this before. I had no idea what to do with the egg.
When confronted with new restaurant experiences, I like to try to figure things out myself. My main technique is to casually look around the restaurant to see what other people are doing and copy that. I started eating my gyudon while looking around at the few other diners in the restaurant. Since it was after 10 pm, there weren’t a lot of people eating, and many of them were already in the middle of their meals. Looking around provided no help at all.
I continued eating my delicious gyudon, stopping to gently spin the egg in the bowl. I remembered a science book from when I was younger telling me that I could tell the difference between a raw egg and a hard boiled egg by spinning them. A hard boiled egg spins longer and more smoothly than a raw egg. This comparison works a lot better when you have one of each so you can see the difference. Spinning my one egg in it’s small bowl provided some small amount of entertainment, but no insight into what I was supposed to do.
At this point, I was about half way through my gyudon. I decided that I would have to test my Japanese language abilities and actually ask someone for help. My mind went back to my Japanese courses in university to assemble a “how do I” sentence. Normally this wouldn’t be terribly difficult, but after a full day of travel and sightseeing, it took some time. I practiced the sentence in my head a few times to make sure I knew what I wanted to say, and that it would make sense to the server.
There weren’t a lot of staff working, so by the time I caught the server’s attention, I had eaten almost all of my gyudon. I called the server over with a polite “sumimasen” (excuse me). I followed that with “kono tamago, doo yatte tabemasu ka?” which means “this egg, how eat?”. In Japanese the verb usually goes at the end of the sentence, making direct word for word translations sound like Yoda speak.
The server gave me a bit of a confused look. I was worried that he didn’t understand my question, but then he started explaining that I should crack the egg into the empty bowl, mix it up, and then pour it over the gyudon. I thanked him for his help, and he walked away.
- When you pour a raw egg over a full steaming hot bowl of gyudon and mix it up, the egg cooks while coating the rice. This is very delicious.
- When you pour a raw egg over a room temperature, mostly empty bowl of gyudon, the raw egg simply sits there, making the remaining rice slippery and nearly impossible to pick up with chopsticks. This is not delicious.
After making a few unsuccessful attempts to finish my slippery gyudon with chopsticks, I decided to use the spoon from my miso soup to help me out. I was rewarded with a mouthful of raw egg and slimy rice. At that point I decided to give up.
The lesson to my story is when presented with an unfamiliar food, it’s better to ask a silly question than to end up with a bowl full of raw egg.