America Rules Again!


Above: Gallagher and I, celebrating years of laughter.

Below: Terror on the high seas.
What makes America's independence so special is the fact that that all the countries we're independent from are savage wastelands of godless painted warriors. This year, I made it my duty to remind myself of that. And it wasn't going to be easy, since every time I see a squirrel water skiing, I totally lose track of what I'm trying to remind myself of. I decided my best bet would be to create an authentic Japanese dinner before I ignite my homemade fireworks, an evening celebrating America's superiority not only in the field of explosives, but in the field of dinner.

Most of what I know about Japanese cuisine comes from Iron Chef, so I was going to recreate it. It fit my fourth of July theme perfectly. It starts with Chairman Kaga emerging in riding gloves and a cape to reveal a secret ingredient from a billowing cloud of his own gay. Then two superhero chefs make luxurious but insane dishes out of it. And every single episode, one of those madmen makes ice cream out of ham or asparagus and a team of elite food eaters spout mistranslated nonsense about the emotions it brings out in their large intestine. It gives me a surge of patriotism, because it's as if every second of it is designed to make me and my country look not crazy.

I've seen enough movies to know that my irreverance and sense of American rock and roll grants me a huge advantage when encountering other cultures. For example, given the proper time accident, I could totally revolutionize medievel warfare with my karate knowledge and two semesters of chemistry. It works in the future too. Say there's some complicated future death bomb whatever with a bunch of blinking buttons. You say some cool shit and throw a football at it, and you just saved Robototron. And think about it: what happens when 13th century France encounters James Brown dance moves? The same thing as when 14th century France encounters it: old timey France is fucked. I could have those fancy cavemen putting on sunglasses and skateboarding in three musical montages or less. And if I got on Iron Chef, I'm sure my Western sense of rad could change the face of Japanese cuisine forever. Then a thought gave me chills: I might get to Iron Chef and the theme ingredient could be something that doesn't mix with rock and roll. It's very possible I'll have to cook dishes out of octopus face or the human enemies of Chairman Kaga, and no amount of American spirit will help me then.

I knew what I had to do. I had to train myself for Iron Chef in the ancient manner, to be ready for anything Japan's lunatic eating habits could throw at me. And in the process, reaffirm why America rules so much ass. In Jean Claude Van Damme's Kickboxer, "the ancient manner" means to glue broken glass to your hand and totally fucking kill somebody's head with it. In cooking terms, it means something similar, yet completely different in every way. It means going to a local Japanese grocery store, and simulating the panicked conditions of Iron Chef with the following three rules:

Cooking in the Ancient Manner: The Rules

Rule #1
I have 30 minutes to buy everything, and am not allowed to ask any foreigners familiar with both our cultures or languages for help.

Rule #2
I may only buy a food item or food-like item if it is NOT labelled in English and I have absolutely no idea what it is. This includes items that are clearly described by a picture. For example, if I see a clear bag of thick white fluid decorated with a picture of a happy lobster jerking a camel off into a clear bag, I can't buy it. However, if the same picture is on a box of crackers, it's fair game. Either way, you should see this hard-on I'm giving myself.

Rule #3
Once cooking begins, I get one hour to prepare my dishes. Despite not knowing what anything is or how to prepare it, I'm not allowed to taste anything until after I've declared it a dish. This is to ensure that the dishes are shrouded in mystery like the levitating ninjas who eat them, but also to prevent me from contaminating the food with my germs, which are unfairly delicious.


SHOPPING FOR INGREDIENTS

Above: An example of the kind of real American dish I make when I'm not fucking around. It's a barbecue chicken and sausage sandwich with almost raw steak for bread, smothered in hot sauce and mayonnaise, with a hot dog garnish. For extra non-fagginess, I made sure the chicken was not free range, and was in fact beaten to death by cruel farmers in underground chicken-killing tournaments.
When we got to the store, I blended in with the Asian drivers by weaving through the wrong lane on my cell phone to park clumsily across three spaces. I could tell from the chittering noises they were making that if they were able to talk, they'd be telling me that we are now considered brothers. But despite my cosmopolitanism, following the three ancient rules of Japanese food that I invented turned out to be hard. Not only did many of the items have English translations on them, some of them even offered serving suggestions. And to all the packaging designers who thought putting noodles in a bowl was a helpful "serving suggestion," here's a suggestion for you: fuck you. I wasn't going to throw them on the floor and jog around eating them with a straw.

Success! My co-patriot Big Red finally found a bag of something in the soup aisle that was labelled only in the scribbly moon drawings of the Far East. We decided it might be soup, but with a strong non-soup possibility, and set to work searching for things to add to it. I found some noodles and two small fish. Since I'd heard of fish and noodles, technically violating Rule #2, I decided to compromise with myself and just get the noodles and fish that looked the least edible. I then bought myself a hippo toy as a reward for my brave and multicultural decision. On his shirt was the letter "K" which probably stood for Kickass Hippo.

The planning for the first dish was finished: fish and noodle maybe-soup. For dessert, I found something in the frozen food section that felt like a pancake and had a cartoon picture of a squid on the front. Just in case it really had squid in it, Joyce selected a backup dessert of colored plastic tubes decorated with a smiling blue carrot holding a margarita. I silently made a mental note to laugh at our cultural differences later and to compare the weirdness of Japanese food marketing to my favorite ethnic stereotype: black people being afraid of ghosts.


The ingredients from left to right: Fish, squid pancake, something sauce, Kickass Hippo, dessert tubes, SOFT DRINKs, noodles, soup maybe, and samurai buns.
For a main dish, I found some doughy buns that seemed like they might be filled with something. This may have violated my second rule of food ignorance is since I'm pretty sure I've seen people eat these in old samurai movies. Of course, they usually cut somebody in half right afterwards, so even if they broke a rule, the buns still helped remind us of the violent devilry of foreign countries. For added flavor, I went into an aisle with jars and grabbed the first sauce that didn't have English words on it. It was red and oily with a disappointingly low number of screaming food mascots.

When searching for a beverage for the meal, I found a bottle of beef stew with fish eyeballs and desperately looked for a way to disqualify myself from buying it. Luckily, it said on the front, "Thai Tea with Basil Seed." Obviously, this was either a lie or a mistranslation from whatever's Japanese for "Drink This Fish Eyeball Beef Stew." I finally found a pack of five small bottles of a milky something called "SOFT DRINK" decorated with children playing soccer. Squeezing them with my fingers, I noticed they were all frozen solid. Cursing the treacherousness of foreign drink storage policies, I told Big Red to sit on them so they'd be thawed into liquid by the time we got home. To avoid suspicion, I rammed into a few shopping carts and an espresso cart before I left the parking lot. The confused looks I got helped remind me that I should be more sensitive: Asian people only steer like maniacs when piloting cars, not groceries.

On to America Rules Again! Part 2: Allez... Cuisine!
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