With all the places I go and the people I meet, from time-to-time it's inevitable that I'll find myself in a situation with food that I "must try", even though all things being equal, I'd probably rather not.
A few nights ago, I was taken out by some very nice people to a restaurant that serves one thing, and one thing only...horse meat. The cuisine is from an area in southern Japan known as Kumamoto. The restaurant, called Haruya, is in a part of Tokyo known as Yotsuya, on a street filled with places to eat and drink.
Like many eating places in Japan, this one was tucked away on the second floor of a small building. Up a narrow flight of stairs, through the sliding doors, and into a cozy area that seats maybe 20-25 people max. The interior was completely made of cedar, which gave the restaurant a fresh, spring smell. Sake and shochu bottles on the shelf, a countertop and four tables...that's it.
We were the first in the restaurant, and thus the first to order, meaning we had the freshest horse meat. How lucky can you get? The first course was basashi 馬刺 (basically raw horse meat) followed by a succession of horse meat dishes prepared in a variety of ways.
When my new friends asked if there was anything I don't eat...I wasn't quite expecting this! If there's one thing I've learned in all my travels though, it's to go along with the flow and never let them see you sweat.
With plenty of cold beer to wash everything down, the meat was surprisingly tender and reminded me of maguro sashimi.
I felt a bit queasy about the whole affair, but I took consolation in knowing that I have friends who've eaten much, much worse.