– Just another Japanese fish story.

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Sushi has been a favorite of mine since I began visiting Japan back in the 1970’s. When I first tasted it, I was somewhat surprised by the hot wasabe mustard carefully hidden between the fish and the rice cake, but as I am somewhat of an aficionado of hot and spicey food, I adapted to it quickly. For the uninitiated, sashimi is simply raw fish, but sushi consists of a small rice cake, usually the size of a pinky finger, topped with green wasabe mustard and sashimi. Sushi comes in as many varieties as there are fish in the sea, and I’ve tried just about everything from eels and fish heads to Dancing Shrimp. “Dancing Shrimp?” you might ask. Actually it’s an interesting story.

Years ago I was in Tokyo on business. On this particular occasion, my representative and I were visiting several clients around Yokohama. One day, we made our last stop at an ink manufacturing company who had been a customer of ours for a long time and we had developed a good relationship with the director of the computer department. We invited him to dinner that evening and he recommended a small sushi restaurant nearby who had some of the freshest fish around. We got there early and secured three seats right up front at the sushi bar where they prepared the food. It was a small restaurant, probably no more than twenty feet long and twelve feet deep, which is customary for a lot of restaurants over there. I remember they had the Japanese world series on the television which was situated up in a corner of the restaurant so everyone could see it. By the way, I love Japanese baseball. I try to attend at least one game every time I go over there, provided it’s in season of course. The Japanese take their baseball very seriously and although I’m partial to the Tokyo Giants, I like all of the teams.

While we waited for the chef to prepare our sushi, the three of us downed several bottles of Sapporo beer and some sake. It had been a long day, and the libations went down nicely as we watched the game. The chef then presented us with a wide assortment of sushi which we gobbled up. I guess my customer was surprised to see a foreigner enjoy sushi as much as I did. Most Americans he knew would only try the standard tuna sushi and the tekamaki cucumber roll. He was surprised that I had no problem with the octopus, cuttlefish, and roe. He then whispered something to my rep who laughed and shook his head in agreement, then placed another order with the chef. He then turned to me with a big grin on his face and said they had a little surprise for me, something they called Dancing Shrimp.

Like you, I was puzzled by the name and didn’t know what to expect. Anyway, the chef brought out three beautiful prawns and showed them to us. I could see they were still alive by the way they were flopping around in the chef’s hands. The chef washed them off, then carefully removed the small shell off of their backs. To stop their flopping around, the chef calmed them by massaging their back with his finger. This seemed to relax them quite a bit and then he positioned them decoratively on our plates with their heads down and their tails high up in the air. At first I thought he was showing us some sort of trick before cutting up the prawns into some more sushi, but I was surprised when my friends picked up the shrimp with their chopsticks, dipped them in soy sauce, then unceremoniously popped them in their mouths. I could tell the prawns were just as surprised as I was because I could see them flopping around as they went into the mouths of my friends who quickly crunched them up and swallowed them whole.

My friends could tell their little ruse had the desired effect they had hoped for and they laughed. They then dared me to eat my prawn. I was still surprised by what I had just witnessed but I knew that I would have to eat the prawn in order to save face. I then downed the remainder of my beer before picking up my chopsticks. I figured I better get this over with as fast as possible and try to make it look like I knew what I was doing. I snatched up the prawn, dipped it in the soy sauce and popped it in my mouth. No doubt I had a surprised expression on my face. The prawn came very much to life in my mouth and I realized I better put it out of its misery as fast as possible and began to crunch it up. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The meat was actually sweet and my friends could tell I was beginning to enjoy it. I then washed it down with a sip of sake and kiddingly asked them what was for dessert. They were delighted I had enjoyed it so much, but I also noticed that some money passed from my customer to my rep. Evidently, I had been the subject of a small wager between the two.

Since then, I haven’t been able to find Dancing Shrimp in the United States, just the normal types of sushis suited to American tastes. I’m glad I tried it though. Every once and awhile you have to try something different. It’s what makes life interesting. I could have easily insisted on burgers or pizza when I’m overseas but that would limit my scope and I wouldn’t get the opportunity to truly experience the local culture which I find so fascinating. In all likelihood, I wouldn’t have been able to develop a good relation with our customers in Japan if I didn’t at least try to sample the local cuisine.

So, would I order Dancing Shrimp again? I guess it would depend on what we were drinking with dinner and the amount of the wager.

First published: May 18, 2012

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2017 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; KIT-AM (1280) in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News” with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

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