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FEATURE: Japanese Dancing Squid… and other ‘moving meals’


 

Zombie Food: Dancing Squid for Dinner

Most in the UK prefer their meals to not writhe around on their plates. However, in Japan they have been going crazy for a squid dish which “dances” when soy sauce is poured over it. Animal rights activists be assured, the squid is dead when it arrives on the dining table. The soy sauce is simply activating the muscles causing them to contract.

Monkey brains?

Monkey brains? (Image courtesy of Darren Dean http://www.darrendeans.com/)

Unlike most Westerners, diners in The East seem to have an affinity for food which moves. From the urban legends of eating “Monkey Brains” from a live but carefully sawn open monkey… to the more palatable and very clearly non-living “Bonito Fish Flakes” which move around due to heat of a dish, there seems to be much fascination for animated food.

The “Dancing squid rice bowl” or ‘Odori-don’ was created by restaurant “Ikkatei Tabiji” in Hakodate, Japan. A squid is decapitated by the chef and the body is placed on top of a bowl of rice. The dish is served with a soy sauce which the diner pours liberally to make it ‘come to life’ and ‘dance’ in the bowl like a culinary version of Frankenstein.

Apparently this ‘signature dish’ has become so popular that restaurant Ikkatei Tabiji has patented the ‘Odori-don’. However, that hasn’t stopped competitors making similar dishes under a different name. (Similar to the recent clamour for Dominique Ansel’s Cronuts™ and the imitations it has spawned.)

I expect some animal activists will be throwing their arms up in horror at the sight of an apparently tortured squid. However this ‘zombie-food’ phenomenon has been known for years. Just because something moves, it doesn’t mean it’s alive. Bonito flakes are a prime example. These extra thin shavings of preserved fish are simply so thin that the hot steam rising from a hot dish cause them to ‘writhe around’. This was used to great effect at the ‘Barrafina and Koya Exchange’ when Chef Junya Yamasaki of Koya served ‘Tortilla & Octopus’ at Barrafina. Bonito flakes were sprinkled liberally on an Japanese okonomiyaki and Spanish tortilla hybrid “to resemble an octopus bowl”.. This mesmerising display confused the poor lady sat next to me… who asked “Is it still alive”?

Dancing Bonito Flakes

Bonito flakes (“katsuo-bushi” (鰹節)) are traditionally dried smoked flakes of preserved bonito fish. These flakes are high in ‘umami’ and used to make Japanese soups such as miso or soba. Because they are so finely shaved they are light enough to be moved around by the heat of hot food so are often used as an animated topping.

Now here’s the science bit… soy sauce is high in salt, aka sodium chloride. The sodium ions in the salt react with the raw food, which mimic the signals sent from the brain, causing the muscles to contract.

Warning: Scientific Explanation

“Most of the tissue in an organism that’s recently dead, recently killed, is actually still alive. In this case, even though the brain function is missing, the tissues will still respond to stimuli.”

The squid’s muscles still retain Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main source of energy for muscle contractions. Therefore, when the sodium in soy sauce is absorbed into the creature’s body, it triggers muscle spasms that appear to make the cephalopod dance. Of course, a specimen must be fairly fresh for soy sauce to elicit this reaction, according to the report.”

Source: Charles Grisham, University of Virginia, speaking to Discovery News

For anyone who is concerned about the squid being alive and feeling pain, the same phenomenon can be seen when seasoning skinned frogs legs in salt… which are very clearly dead.

Will moving-food catch on and migrate to the West? Somehow I doubt it, if the sight of writhing flakes of fish are enough to freak out a restaurant diner, I suspect that dancing beheaded sea-creatures will be a little too much for most diners in London. Thoughts?

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One comment on “FEATURE: Japanese Dancing Squid… and other ‘moving meals’

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