Eating Authors: Liz Braswell

1 Comment » Written on June 27th, 2016 by
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Liz Braswell

As you know, Bob, the world is a very small place. In evidence of this fact, I present this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Liz Braswell. I don’t think we’ve ever met, (or if we did, it was amidst the blur of meeting many many people at a convention or room party), but I vividly remember our first email exchanges.

Liz was working at Simon & Schuster Audio, and I was providing support on the world’s first (and I’m pretty sure, only) Klingon Language CD-ROM game. It was a rollicking, complicated thing that involved me flying into Boston to record deliberately mispronounced Klingon phrases (to help train the speech software) and getting stuck there when snow closed the airport, leaving me unable to return to Philadelphia to hand out a final exam.

I don’t think I ever told Liz about this, but I had to phone the assistant to the president of the small, liberal arts, Catholic college, and explain that she needed to have someone else proctor the exam (which I’d left sitting in a neat stack on my office desk). She insisted it was my responsibility to somehow get back. I explained that snow counted as an “act of God” and we were off to the races.

I didn’t get tenure there, but that’s not Liz’s fault.

In any case, it was more than a decade ago, and the game executive I knew back then was secretly (or, okay, maybe not so secretly) writing books. Which is awesome, and I’m really happy to have her here!

LMS: Welcome, Liz. Let’s talk most memorable meals. You go first.

LB: Originally I was going to write about the Brisket of ’94, the taste, texture, and moistness of which had never before been achieved by the human race—and my mother has not been able to reproduce since. 2016 saw my mom’s Matzoh Ball Soup join it in epicurean history; we’ll have to see if she ever manages to get them both to perfection again at the same time, or maybe next elevate the tzimmes to the same level of greatness.

No, instead I’ll tell you all about a little restaurant in Tokyo, and those who have heard it before… hey! Pipe down. No spoilers.

My husband, my crazy-blond toddler, my sister Sabrina and I were in Japan for work and fun — the vacation of a lifetime. One night Scott took the baby and a colleague of his took Sabrina and me for a night out on the town. Mutsumi asked us where we wanted to go and of course we answered someplace super obscure no Americans have been to Japanese only please we’ll behave.

Once Upon a Dream

She very nicely obliged and led us through the labyrinth of streets, around and around and deeper and deeper into Tokyo. Most of the city doesn’t follow a grid system and buildings are addressed by age rather than specific location; were my sister and I by ourselves we never would have found our way in or out of the tiny neighborhood we eventually wound up in. And forget about stumbling upon the tiny, unmarked, second-floor restaurant where we were, indeed, the only gaijin.

Everything about the place was perfect: from the rustic tables and wooden shutters to the little button one presses to ring for a waiter—otherwise diners are left in perfect privacy. The sake came in hand-thrown cups, Mutsumi ordered for us, we behaved.

We wanted to stop drinking at one point, but apparently that would not have been behaving, so we continued.

After many amazing appetizers which I can’t rightly remember, Mutsumi felt it was time to explain that she had chosen to take us to a very special restaurant, the equivalent of which exists no where else in the world. It was a place whose specialty was chicken sashimi.

Yes, you heard me right. Not a punch line.

Chicken.

Sashimi.

The Nine Lives of Chloe King

Of course we were torn between being haughty, worldly, jaded travelers and succumbing to abject terror of raw chicken. Mutsumi had the waiter come over and translated: The chickens used for sashimi are not regular chickens. They are not like your dirty American chickens. They are not like regular Japanese chickens. They are kept in their own flock, super clean, raised specifically for eating raw.

His patient insistence and our urge for the obscure won out. We had the chicken sashimi.

What was it like?

Well, a little slimy, truth to tell.

But beyond that, imagine the most chickeny chicken you’ve ever had. The platonic ideal of chicken. Not rotten, mind you. But not the bland tasteless crap you expect to get in a skinless boneless breast anywhere. It tasted very strongly of CHICKEN, and once you’ve had that, you find yourself far less likely to compare other things to chicken, because there really isn’t anything.

It was a fairly amazing, if understated, experience, and made me re-evaluate the whole modern agribusiness food chain/food system that takes all the flavor and life out of food.

And look, I had at least twenty-four hours to ponder this before the salmonella kicked in.

A Whole New World

No joke.

Four people, one of whom was a baby, one hotel room, one tiny bathroom.

I’m not going to go into the symptoms of salmonella here, you can look it up. Suffice it to say extreme fevers were the least of our bodily issues, pun intended. The rest of the trip was ruined and the seventeen-hour flight home was a nightmare— for us as well as Scott and the flight attendants.

The symptoms continued, slowly abating, for the next month.

And if you think I got any pity from my mother, maybe you don’t know from Jewish mothers.

“YOU ATE RAW CHICKEN WHAT THE HELL DID YOU EXPECT?”

Somehow the arguments about the special clean Japanese flock sounded stupid on the phone in English in Brooklyn.

Anyway, that’s my most memorable meal. Read my books. There are no raw chicken appetizers in them. I promise.

Thanks, Liz. You know, I eat a lot of chicken (almost every day, in fact), but I have to side with your mother. Seriously, what were you thinking?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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