Rebecca Arnold writes: “Chicken heart! Chicken heart! You eating chicken heart!” The two girls next to us giggled and pointed to a picture depicting a person and the various cuts of meat one could have.
My boyfriend and I looked at each other and then back at the meat on the plate suspiciously.
“It looks like beef,” I whispered to him. “I think they’re just having us on.”
I pushed the meat off the skewer with a chopstick.
“You first,” he said.
Gingerly, I put it in my mouth. Yep, tasted just like beef. Tender and delicious. Definitely not chicken heart.
We were in a small Japanese restaurant in Hiroshima, and after a fairly emotional day making our way through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum we were after somewhere to enjoy a tasty meal and see how this city had rebuilt itself into the modern place it is today. Wandering through the small laneways near the river, unsuccessfully trying to decipher Japanese menus, we peered into one restaurant, saw lots of people inside and decided this was the one.
As we walked in to a cacophony of Japanese greetings and were pointed to seats at the bar, all the staff and patrons turned to look at us. I was sure they were talking about us as they shared a joke.
Sitting down, it wasn’t long before we realised that there was no English menu. We’d done alright so far in Japan, with most restaurants having at least something written in broken English or a waiter who could understand what we were saying. So tonight we’d left the phrasebook back at the hostel.
Despairingly, I pointed in confusion at the menu. The waitress looked back at me, just as confused. Sighing with embarrassment, I asked: “Do you have chicken?” simultaneously flapping my arms in an attempt to look like chicken wings.
She giggled at me from behind her hand and nodded.
“And beef? Mooooo. Mooooo.” Oh, God, what am I doing?
More giggles and another nod.
Okay, good, getting somewhere.
I shrugged my shoulders exaggeratedly in the international sign language of I-have-no-clue-what-I’m-doing.
Time to put my trust in this girl: “Can you choose for us?”
She called something out to the chef, who looked at her with raised eyebrows and yelled something back, the entire restaurant listening in and turning to look at us.
Not long after, a plate of yakitori-style chicken was brought to us. Phew. It looked edible and there were no unidentifiable pieces of meat there.
We chowed down what was obviously chicken breast and thigh, but when we got to some darker coloured meat, the girls next to us started calling out: “Chicken heart, chicken heart!” Not to be put off, we kept eating and smiled. Ha ha, you can’t trick us!
The girls began talking to us in broken English and we soon began to realise that they weren’t tricking us, they were quite sincere. We had eaten chicken hearts.
In the end, that night we ended up eating chicken hearts, chicken skin on skewers, deep-fried chicken cartilage and roasted pigs’ feet. All absolutely delicious — even more so because we had no idea what it was when we put it in our mouths. Our unawareness of the local language meant we tried some new things that we normally would not have willingly chosen from the menu.
And talking to the girls throughout our meal, learning about their lives and the food they liked, it was one of the most memorable nights of the trip.
In the real world Rebecca Arnold is a Melbourne-based PR flack. She’s just got home from Japan and writes about her travels at Rebecca and the World.