OCHAZUKE: Mama, a Japanese Chef

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By MAGGIE ISHINO
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on Feb. 2, 2012.)

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As I mentioned once before, my Mama was quite an organizer and she was truly “home on the range.” She was a member of the Fujin-kai (Women’s League) in a certain church. She had a knack for delegating what to whom in preparing food for special luncheons or special events that occurred at the church. The preparation and the display of food, as well as the taste, were always extraordinary.

I will always remember the fantastic Oshogatsu feast Mama would prepare. She would buy a whole lobster, stick a chopstick inside the tail to make it “stand” up and use it as a centerpiece. She would place the lobster in the center of a large oblong tray and arrange “designed” and/or patterned, sliced red and white kamaboko, konbu-maki, and sliced oranges attractively around the lobster.

Then in the ju-bako, a three-tier wooden box, she would place in one kazunoko (fish roe), the second kimpira gobo (burdock bark), and the third kuro-mame (Japanese black beans).

In front of the tray, she would place a large bowl of “umani” consisting of Japanese vegetables such as sato-imo, renkon, kambuko, takenoko, konyaku, carrots and shiitake in front of the tray.

She would place maki-zushi in one large platter and inari-zushi in another large platter and put them on one side of the tray.

After the guests were seated, she would serve them shrimp tempura, piping hot, and vegetable tempura, which consisted of eggplant, yam, carrot/celery fritters and string beans.

She also had sekihan, which was placed in a large Japanese wooden bowl with a matching pestle, which she placed alongside the sushi platter.

She had a “crystal” bowl filled with sunomono, consisting of medium-grated daikon (Japanese radish) and medium-grated carrots with her own special dressing. This bowl was placed in front of the tray. There were also takuwan and rakkyo placed in a “crystal” plate to match the bowl that was placed alongside the sunomono.

Mama, of course, served ozoni, which consisted of bite-sized pieces of chicken breast, sliced shitake, sliced takenoko (bamboo shoots) and mochi (pounded rice cake). The broth she made for the ozoni was absolutely delicious. Most of the guests requested a second helping of Mama’s ozoni.

I will never forget one New Year’s Eve when I was “helping” Mama. She had made the broth for the ozoni and put it in the dishpan because the dishpan would hold much more liquid than any of her large pots. I, not knowing it was the broth and being a stupid 8-year-old, tossed it down the sink. Needless to say, Mama was very unhappy, but she quietly told me, “Why don’t you just go to sleep now? You have helped me enough.”

Two days after New Year’s Day, Mama would make lobster fritters by slicing the lobster in thin strips and mixing it with chopped celery and grated carrots with a small amount of green onions in the batter. For the lobster fritter sauce, she would mix daikon oroshi (shredded Japanese radish) with shoyu. I can still taste these absolutely scrumptious lobster fritters eaten with hot rice and takuwan.

We lived in a large two-story house. The seven rooms upstairs were rented out. We lived downstairs. Mama rented one room to two fishermen and whenever they returned from a fishing trip, they would bring Mama a huge tuna. Mama would spoon the meat from the fish and place it in a bowl, adding carrots, peas and slices of gobo and make tempura fritters. She would call her farmer friends and they would drop everything for her tempura fritters and bring fresh vegetables, such as cabbage, daikon, lettuce and cucumbers to thank Mama for the tempura fritters.

I have visited Japanese restaurants in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., but have yet to taste chow mein, o-sushi, tempura and sweet and sour pork equal to Mama’s.

Yes, Mama was indeed a Japanese chef.

2012 is the Year of the Dragon. Please don’t drag on and spring forward to a healthy, prosperous and HAPPY NEW YEAR.

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Maggie Ishino is a Rafu typist. She can be reached at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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