Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bento Box in the Heartland

My Japanese Girlhood in
White Bread America

Linda Furiya
Avalon Publishing

Her father arrived in the U.S. from Japan with $29 in his pocket. Her mother left a highly satifying, fulfilling life working in Tokyo and spending the weekends skiing and hiking, to go to the U.S. to get married and become a housewife in a foreign land. Her dad worked two jobs throughout her childhood, one of them "chick sexing" (separating the male and female chickens), and her mom spent much of her time planning how to make Japanese foods and rationing ingredients so they wouldn't run out

Linda Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, in one of the few Asian-American families in her community. She takes us back to her early childhood and describes her unique family upbringing, of which food was central. Her parents felt closer to home (Japan) when they could eat Japanese food; however, this was not easy given the unavailability of fresh Japanese ingredients in rural Indiana in the 1970s. She recalls with the occasions when they would drive into Chicago or Cleveland to procure Japanese ingredients or go to a Japanese restaurant, and how those excursions lifted the whole family's spirits.

Each chapter ends with a recipe, most of which are fairly simple for those unitiated to Japanese cooking. Roasted Pork Tenderloin (Yakibuta), Short-Necked  Clams Steamed with Sake, Chestnut Pastry (Kurimanju), Steamed Buns with Meat Filling (Nikuman). I don't much fancy Japanese food - too salty for me, and most dishes contain meat or chicken. But I loved reading this book because it made me remember my three year's living in a Japanese community when I was working in Hawaii.

Her girlhood in the small Indiana Farm community where she grew up ws marked by differences. She was the only Asian in her school, the only girl whose mother packed rice balls and chopsticks in her lunch box, the only one whose parents' idea of a family vacation was loading the station wagon with an oversized cooler and driving across state lines for twelve hours in search of fresh fish.

"Maybe it was the game fishing TV shows on Sunday mornings, with glistening fat fish fighting the line and arcing in the air, but that summer he got the idea in his head that Florida was Mecca. The focus of that summer was to obtain fresh fish. We headed south from the glacier-cut hills and rivers of Indiana, through the rolling horse country of Kentucky, and down through the forests of Tennessee. After spending the night at a Holiday Inn in Georgia, we reached the salty sea breezes and moss-covered banyan trees in Panama City, florida's 'Redneck Riviera.'" Japanese home cooking had become the only daily thread her parents had to their culture... a simply bowl of perfectly steamed rice or ramen noodles in hot broth could do wonders in keeping homesickness at bay.

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