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Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Oct. 31, 1959

October 31, 2009 |  2:00 pm



Sparrow Just Not Columnist's Dish

Paul Coates    TOKYO -- I hope you're fine, but me? I'm a bit under the weather.  Got this kind of queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

    You see, I have good reason to believe that I may have just eaten a sparrow.

    It was quite unintentional, I assure you.

    Sparrow, to make mincemeat out of metaphor, is simply not my cup of tea.

    I could no more consciously dine on one than I could make a seafood cocktail out of our pet goldfish whose inspired name, by the way, is Goldie.

    However, the way it happened, I was idly strolling through the Kyobashi district of Tokyo when I came across a tiny, inviting-looking restaurant called the Isehiro.

    It had no entrance door -- just a bamboo curtain from beyond which my sensitive nostril (that's right, nostril.  Only the left one is sensitive.  The right one has a deviated septum) caught the intoxicating odor of something being barbecued.
I went in.  The "something" was called Yakitori, and all I managed to detect from the limited English of the waitress is that it consists of 18 courses, grilled over charcoal and served on small wooden skewers.  Served endlessly, I should add.
    Oct. 31, 1959, Abby
Anyway, it was a delightful meal.  And I left feeling that even Diamond Jim Brady never had it so good.

    But when I returned to the hotel, I picked up a tourist newspaper put out by Japan Air Lines, and read:

    "One of the most interesting of Japan's typical dishes is Yakitori, which consists of white meat of chicken, chicken liver, ground chicken meat, chicken wings, chicken with okra and onion, duck and sparrow."

    And now I can't close my eyes without seeing a horrible picture of myself as a fat-bellied alley cat grinning contentedly with a mouthful of feathers.

    Actually, dining in Tokyo is not usually such a harrowing experience.  Every restaurant, even in the most remote sections of town, is spotlessly clean.  You don't have to worry, as you do in most parts of the Orient, about the water you drink or the vegetables you eat.  The Japanese are culinary artists in the way they prepare their food, and theatrical artists in the dramatic way they serve what they prepare.

Kobe Beef Tops

    There are dozens of excellent restaurants, but the most notable, I think, is a place called Suehiro's, where they serve steaks and sukiyaki made with Kobe beef, which is a lot better than anything that comes out of Kansas City.

    With the Japanese talent for mimicry there are also restaurants like the Hananoki, which serves superb French cuisine prepared by Oriental chefs.  And, of course, if you get over that way, you've got to drop by one of the countless tempura shops for a try at the delicately fried shrimp. 

    I could tell you about the other evening when I at eel and thought I was eating chicken.  I could, But I don't feel up to it right now.  Maybe later.