Part of Peter’s Unified Theory of Japan is that to really understand a culture, you have to learn to love two basic foods from that culture: beans and pickles. For some fundamental human reason, beans and pickles are the foods that are most closely associated with a given country, and as a result, might not always be enjoyed by outside visitors. Japan has a highly evolved culinary tradition of eating sweet beans like anko and azuki, and it took me several years to learn to appreciate the sweeter taste of these beans. Similarly, when Japanese go to the States, they invariably dislike the refried beans used in Mexican food, and you can tell how long a Japanese person has lived in the U.S. by asking if he wants to go out for burritos. The Japanese love tsukemono (pickles), and will pickle everything from eggplant to daikon radishes (aka Mugi’s eyebrows) and even squid intestines, and it’s no surprise that most of these are not to my taste, though I could eat kimchee all day long (definitely the soul of the Korean people). When I went to Australia I encountered pickled beetroot with a strong, pungent taste, and I was sure I’d found something that that was very near the heart of Australia.
Beans and pickles are at the heart of every culture.