Although childhood can sometimes seem like the golden days of one’s life, I’m sure there are things that everyone is happy to leave behind. For me, one of those things is school dinners.
I was in school way before Jamie Oliver’s Turkey Twizzler revolution. The result is that I have vague memories of a square, grey block of “roast meat” being sliced by a crumple-faced, bad-tempered woman.
“Want some meat?” she crowed.
“What meat is it?” I innocently asked.
“It’s meat! Roast meat!” was the impatient response.
Senior school was no better, slopping up dishes that, quite frankly, resembled vomit. These “meals” were made by people who cared so little about food that they, either accidentally or intentionally, made quiche using sweet pastry. Cross contamination was common – we’d often find unidentifiable objects floating in the baked beans or custard.
Needless to say, at the age of 23, I never thought I’d be opting to eat school dinners again. But due to a lack of time, effort and creativity on my part, I’ve decided to eat schools dinners with the kids. At elementary schools, it’s supposed to be quite good and I’m supposed to enjoy the communal eating experience. I’m nervous about the meals at junior high schools having spoken to the teachers. I’ll update you when I know.
But, it just so happens that recently, I had a school dinner experience OUTSIDE of school.
The evening had not been going well. Our friend Anthony was visiting and so we decided to go to the special exhibition at Kyoto International Manga Museum – “Eshi 100 – Contemporary Japanese Illustration in Kyoto.” We arrived just after 5pm, which gave us just under an hour before the place closed. It was going to be tight, but we could do it.
Marching purposely in, we found ourselves in ….a library. Because, the museum turned out to be little more than a large library. In disbelief, we climbed the stairs to the main exhibition.
It was obviously not designed for foreigners. The only thing I remember are signs that went along the lines of “Who decided the reading order of the boxes?” and “Who decided that a comic had to have pictures?”
We then found a small saviour of the visit – an exhibition called “Magnitude Zero”, a collection of artists’ responses to the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. There were pieces from artists all over the world, in a variety of styles – not all to my taste – but interesting nonetheless. I recommend visiting the exhibition and attending the book launch event on April 22nd.
This ray of sunshine aside, we stumbled upon the exhibition we’d actually paid extra to see. With 15 minutes to go, we raced in to the hall to explore contemporary illustration in Japan.
Now I was expecting illustration that portrayed a contemporary Japan. The artists were, after all, working with the theme “Japan.” However, it didn’t take a lot of examining to see that this exhibition wasn’t about contemporary Japan – it was about young girls waiting to be violated. Unless contemporary Japan is solely constituted of horny, not-so-innocent schoolgirls (which if you’ve ever seen an anime or Japanese adverts, you’d be more than prepared to believe).
From the walls, teenage girls gave us coy looks of desire combined with modest blushes as they tried to suppress their urges. A friend of mine encapsulated their “voices” perfectly: “Oh, oh [moan] ….my age is dubious and my panties might be showing…”
Yep. There was nothing sophisticated about this exhibition, even if they did throw in some traditional garb for good measure. I enjoyed the art for the pop culture flick it was and laughed at the increasingly ridiculous representations and their balloon-sized boobies. For the record, there were two male manga characters in the whole exhibition – both of whom were lurking far away in the background.
The souvenir postcard selection was limited but I bought this more tasteful one, of a young school girl, listening to her IPod at a rural bus stop, because rural Japan really does look like this.
I also bought the picture below, because, supernatural manga-schoolgirl aside, I’m pretty sure that’s Fushimi Inari in the background and it brings back good memories.
Feeling more than a little ripped-off at our 1000円 entrance fee, we set off in the direction of home, hoping to discover dinner along the way. It began to drizzle. Shivering we discounted place after place until we were almost at Teramachi, the main shopping arcade in central Kyoto.
That’s when we spotted Café Reims, a faux-French cuisine café. It seemed popular enough and offered a Dinner Plate set at 950円, which is extraordinarily reasonable.
We should have known. It didn’t even make it to the bog standard faux-Western Japanacised food we were expecting.
I asked the waitress what the Dinner Plate included.
“Pie. Beef pie. Wrap. Pie. Pie!” She became more insistent, miming the wrapping of the beef in the pie. She explained that it also included duck, salad, and “fresh tart.”
I am very fortunate that I don’t have any photos of what was served to me on a large metal tray-plate. Just remembering it makes me feel ill.
Firstly, the beef pie wasn’t a pie. It was some poor quality piece of meat, with the thinnest layer of pastry over it, so thin that it was impossible to taste. It was slowly sinking into mashed potato sludge, which had clearly been made by the classic technique of adding water to powder.
The salad tasted like a Big Mac. Now, I haven’t eaten MacDonald’s since I was maybe 6 years old so this salad took me on a long trip into my memories. I thought I must have been mistaken when my friend Anthony piped up, and confirmed my suspicions. There were also some dried-out looking sardines on the plate, also covered in MacDonald’s sauce. I couldn’t bring myself to touch them. The duck could have been any kind of meat and was doused in sickly sharp and sweet sauce that tasted as artificial as the salad.
The fresh tart, apparently, was pretty poor too. I say “apparently” because it was one of those “death on a plate” moments for me, where I was served a double-whammy of kiwi and strawberry (I’m allergic to both!)
It was meal that made me want to rip out my insides and even my teeth, and start all over again.
And, to vindicate the age-old adage “It never rains but it pours”, it started pouring with rain as I cycled home alone.
I was so distraught by this nauseating dinner that I demanded that Calle and Anthony brought me a cake home. On their arrival back to find me still dripping, they presented me with a “chocolate mousse cake”.
“She said it’s chocolate mousse all the way through. Lots of chocolate!” Anthony claimed excitedly.