gaijin find off-putting. For those who acquire the taste, however, it’s delicious, and there’s no other food quite like it. Also at Ocean Sushi, as well as Zum Sushi in Pacific Grove and C.U. Sushi in Salinas, is Japanese curry, which became popular in the country in the 1950s. Now every city is filled with restaurants dedicated to the dish. Per Japanese tastes, it’s mildly spiced, and is a go-to comfort food for those looking for a tasty gravy, with meat and vegetables, to sop up mouthfuls of rice. Another popular, ubiquitous dish is onigiri—rice packed into a folded triangle of nori seaweed (like a triangular rice burrito) with a filling in the center, often umeboshi (sour, pickled plum) or some kind of protein. They literally line the racks of Japanese convenience stores, which unlike their American counterparts, stock delicious and healthy food. Onigiri make for a good snack or holdover meal on the go, and you can find them at Ocean Sushi too. But not all popular Japanese food is necessarily healthy (see: tempura), and such foods are typically not eaten in large quantities. Among them are karaage, Japanese fried chicken, which unlike its American counterpart, is made with potato starch (or flour) batter, which somehow makes the texture more delicate, and arguably more compelling. An excellent version can be found at Crystal Fish in Monterey, as well as Zum Sushi in Pacific Grove. And last on the list of wildly popular dishes, you can find locally are takoyaki, which are deep-fried balls of seasoned pancake batter with a small amount of vegetables and a piece of octopus inside, then seasoned with a sweet and savory sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise, nori and bonito flakes. Typically eaten as a street food in Japan, they’re beloved by the younger generations of Japanese, and they are, indeed, amazing. They can be found at Ocean Sushi, Kokoro Ramen and Sushi Time—both in Seaside—and elsewhere. To finish on a healthier and more traditional note, one can get a taste of a traditional root vegetable salad, kinpira (braised burdock root and carrot, available at Ocean Sushi), to get a sense of what adults in Japan are eating on the side. Or rethink rice as a main event. C.U. Sushi, for example, offers an interpretation of the basic side that includes black rice, brown rice, quinoa and barley. So the next time you go out for Japanese food, after you order your sushi, ramen or udon, look down the menu to see what else is on offer, and consider taking a chance. You might discover flavors you’ve never before tasted. And you might fall in love. Beyond Bento Kokoro Ramen 16 The Best of Monterey Bay ® EAT + DRINK 2023-2024 Ocean Sushi Deli Daniel Dreifuss Daniel Dreifuss