The restaurant less eaten by

Two restaurants lined up on a street... so begins the poem by Robert
Frost. Oh wait, maybe I have my facts wrong. But if Mr. Frost visited
Japan with me, he may have written that line. After working late at
school, I decided to eat out because by the time I could have made
something at home it would have been bedtime.

So I decided to go to my usual ramen shop. I'm trying to be a
connoisseur of ramen while I'm in Japan but I haven't gotten to far
afield in the noodle shops around my own town. Just this one on the
street across the train tracks, the school cafeteria, and the Nissen
instant noodles. Yes, I admit to eating instant noodles in Japan where
I can get fresh ones. But I thought the instant noodles would be
better than the 10¢ ones that slowly kill you with preservatives in
the powdered broth that starving grad students eat back in the States.
These instant noodles came in a nice looking package and they did have
a tantalizing piece of dried pork and radish in them, but after the
boiling water soaked the noodles, they were the same as the 10¢ kind
back home. But I'm totally going on a tangent to my open story.

There's a red lantern restaurant next to the ramen shop. I asked my
friend and teacher mentor Aki what kind of restaurants are those with
these lanterns and drapes that keep passers-by from peering in. Aki
says these are the local watering holes where people go for good
times. Don't think Cheers! with Cliff Claven and Sam Malone, but just
a low key restaurant where people can relax and drink and eat. Well,
I'm not much of a drinker but I decided: what the heck?!

As soon as I slid open the door, there was a sudden pause in the sound
and activity of the restaurant. It about as big as a reception room,
not a sweeping Denny's or anything. All 8 people stared at me without
a sound as I entered. Immediately I knew this would be a wonderful
dining experience. They didn't expect a foreigner to come to their
tucked away place. I had found someplace special. The proprietor moved
around some regulars at the bar so that I could sit alone and watch
Japan vs. Brazil women's volleyball. I took a menu and could read half
of all of it. That means that I could read the hiragana/katakana
syllables that come after verbs and foreign words but not the complex
kanji for the main ingredients.

So I went to strategy "B": sore wa nan desu ka? What is that? I
pointed to my neighbor's dish and asked. He didn't even know. He had
to ask his buddy from whom he'd been separated since my arrival. He
said something that I didn't even understand. The point isn't to
understand, its to establish some interest and interaction. Then I
pointed to a sizzling pancake of diced vegetables, noodles, and
mayonnaise. Okonomiyaki. My girlfriend Gilda says that Hiroshima and
Kansai are famous for their okonomiyaki, so I knew that I had to try
it. The chef asks me if I want seafood or beef. Well, I only picked up
beef but I saw someone else getting seafood so I'll have to try that
next time.

Cutting food with chopsticks is difficult, but it can be done. Even
beef doesn't stand a chance with my hashi cutting skills. A successful
dinner. I overcame fear of something new and potentially not delicious
and found a fun place with helpful people and delicious food. I chose
the restaurant less eaten by, and that has made all the difference!

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