Bountiful Sea - Or - Fan Mail From Some Flounder?

A new 130 kph (80 mph) rail service from Tokyo (Akihabara) to Tsukuba has been opened, called the Tsukuba Express. Ibaraki Prefecture is expecting more English speaking tourists to visit the area who may stay in local hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). Tsukuba is in central Ibaraki and home to many science related industries and research facilities.

As a result of the anticipated wave of gaijins, K and I have been doing some work as a team translating brochures from Japanese to English for a group of hotels and ryokans. Of course, K does most of the work and especially the hard part of translating Japanese to English. (I'd have difficulty translating my way to a men's room here if they didn't have a blue diagram of a guy in pants on the door). But while K has spent a lot of years teaching English in schools and attended a school for interpreters, there is a big difference between conversational language and translating documents.

That's where I come in. I take her rough draft and polish it into American vernacular while honing it down to fit into the space available. I also try to use descriptions that would appeal to a native English speaker. There are certain words and phrases that have cultural significance to the Japanese that would be totally lost on a foreigner.

My part of the work also avoids mistakes such as those encountered from time to time (well, frequently) in Japan. For example, there is a sign in each room of one hotel that reads, "You are invited to take advantage of our chamber maid". Nice translation technically, but to the English speaking visitor reading it doesn't quite convey the message the hotel had in mind.

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When I hear the word "flounder" I can't help but remember my cartoon friend Bullwinkle asking, "fan mail from some flounder?"

Anyway, we'd been doing this for a few weeks, and the brochure jobs had led to others. One Friday morning a delivery truck stopped in front of the house and the driver brought a large styrofoam box to the door. The unexpected package was from an individual for whom we had also been doing some translation. We had no clue as to what was inside the box. When we opened it, we found (packed in ice) two full sets of fresh snow crab legs, four flounder filets, the head and skeleton of said flounder, and two live abalone! There was also a nice thank you note. Well, the pay's not great, but the perks are awesome!

We don't eat out often and our diet at home is pretty much vegetarian. We do like seafood, but only have it occasionally, so this box of goodies was a real treat. We boiled the crab legs for lunch and devoured them. K did take half of them plus two of the flounder filets and the rest of that fish to K's parents. That evening I prepared the remaining two flounder fillets with a ginger recipe. The quality and freshness of the fish was a major factor, but the recipe is a good one too, so they were "melt in your mouth" delicious. At the end of the post is the recipe I used which works well with any mild fish. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

The following day was my birthday. I am now feeling old enough to prove that the creationists are wrong in their determination of the age of the earth. Anyway, the abalone would have to wait because we went out to our favorite restaurant - Wordsworth (after the poet). Wordsworth serves seafood pastas. The kitchen is glassed in so you can see the chefs at work and everything is very fresh and delicious. Surprisingly, the bill won't kill you. In fact, if you are from Hawaii you'll find it a bargain. I tried spaghetti in sea urchin sauce and it was excellent. I try something different every time I go there and can't recommend one over another, they are all wonderful.

Sunday, I scoured the Internet for instructions on preparing abalone. I've only eaten it two or three times before and that was eons ago, and I've never had to get a live one out of the shell. It turned out to be less of a daunting task than I had feared - messy, but not that difficult. K had her own ideas on the cooking process so we compromised. The result was delicious, so I guess we were both right.

I was holding back on posting all this, as I had no pictures to go with it. That problem was solved this morning when the Kuroneko (black cat) delivery truck once again swung into our driveway and the driver came to the door with another cold box. This time it contained four sets of frozen snow crab legs (about a foot long) and a fresh lobster. K's parents will get half the crab legs, but the rest is ours.

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Forget Spam Musubi!

Last Sunday, there was a benefit concert for (an NGO, the name of which I have removed from this post), which was attended by the (name of country) Ambassador to Japan, (name withheld) and his wife. We were called upon to translate the welcoming address to him and devise the letter to the founder of the NGO and winner of a major award for their work) notifying the person of the donation. The ambassador would convey the letter to them. We felt very honored to have a hand in all this, if only in a small way.

Hopefully, I am not revealing too much about the event to anyone in Japan, as the person we consulted did not want anyone to know of our role. So if you have any knowledge of this event and the people involved, mum's the word. As a result, while we had the pleasure of working on this interesting project, we neither attended the concert nor got to meet the ambassador. That's OK, we'll settle for seafood and a check.

As the date grew closer there were many last minute emails and phone calls asking how to say or ask a particular thing. Anyway, if you happen to read in the news that Japanese - (country) relations take a nosedive this week, it may be our fault!


Here's the recipe for Gingered Flounder (also works well for sole and other mild flavored fish). I've shown US measures, if you'd like it in metric, just send me an email.

2/3 cup coarsely grated peeled gingerroot
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
4 six-ounce flounder fillets or sole fillets
cooking spray or olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 scallion, green part sliced

Using damp cheesecloth or your hand, squeeze grated ginger over a small bowl gathering the ginger juice.

Combine 2 tablespoons ginger juice, soy sauce, sherry, lemon juice, and sugar or sugar substitute in a large food storage bag or bowl; add fish, turning or gently shaking to coat.

Marinate in refrigerator 20 minutes, turning fish occasionally.

Remove fish from marinade; discard marinade.

Place fish on broiler pan coated with cooking spray and broil 3 minutes (do not turn); brush oil over fish, and broil an additional minute or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Note: Alternatively, you can fry the fish in a little olive oil on a non-stick pan.

Place fish on individual serving plates, and drizzle remaining tablespoon ginger juice over fish; garnish with scallions.

I served our fish with a very small baked potato, one small scoop of rice (for clearing the palate), and steamed asparagus spears.



J-apricot said...

How do you cook the lobster? I've never eaten a whole. I've had ones gratin in a lobster shell, though.

Pandabonium said...

You can boil, steam, grill or broil lobster. Timing is the key to get the best result. A good web page all about it is here:

bon appetit!

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

I think a perfect translation is not possible, considering also the cultural difference.

But, erm, even if i understand it, i will just be your guest, i'll "take advantage", hehe!!!

Happy belated birthday, my friend!

Pandabonium said...

Ah, amazing how one's friends increase when there is good food on the stove. ;^) The lobster last night was just awesome. We lucked out and got the time just right (I am so disappointed when on some special ocassion I pay for a lobster dinner and get one that is over cooked and tough. grrrrr).

Thanks for the birthday wish, though I lost count of them around the time that the wooly mamoth disappeared.

I'm looking at "The 1979" right now and appreciating the great pics. I'll leave some comments there later.

Pandabonium said...

Oh! silly me. I just realized you were going to take advantage of the chaimber maid, not my cooking.

In that case, go right ahead!

Don Snabulus said...

Happy birthday and WOW! That all sounds so good. I will keep that recipe around for our next mild white fish purchase.

Pandabonium said...


I was a bit worried about the ginger recipe - that it might be too strong a flavor and overwhelm the fish. It isn't. It is just right, so do try it some time.

I'll try not to post about food for a while. It makes me hungry. :^P

YD said...

Surprisingly, the chaimber maid caught my attention more than the food, but anyway, thanks for the recipe!

I love your older post about knowing where you want to get in your life. We spend our whole life labouring, and forgoing many simple things that we think can 'postpone' until when we are free and have the time to do so. But most of the time, we find time running out and by the time we have 'free time', there are other constraints (time, physical) that restrict us from savouring the essence of the simple things. Human search high and low for what they want in life, in the end they might just find it lying at the very starting point.

erm... i think i've gone into a a little bit too philosophical.. pardon me. :-)

Pandabonium said...

YD, thanks for visiting. I hope you will come back often. No need to apologize for being philosophical. I think that is at the core of experiencing life. It is our compass that points the way.

Enjoy the ginger fish - and avoid the chamber maid- she's mean.