When you marry into a family, you marry into their food. Perhaps my case is extreme having relocated to a far flung country with a cuisine most divergent from mine. But no matter who we partner with, there are just some dishes that come along with them, ones that seem to bring comfort in a way that bespeaks a meaning deeper than the sum of its flavors. Kashiwameshi is to Hanako what perhaps a grilled cheese sandwich is to me. It’s a homely chicken and rice dish peppered with bits of carrot, gobo, usuage, konnyaku, and shiitake. The first time I saw her eat this dish at her mother’s table she nearly fell out of her chair, wriggling with delight. It’s clearly a heaping dose of nostalgia and contentment. She rarely eats fewer than three helpings per sitting. There are versions of kashiwameshi all over Japan, but there is only one version that elicits such an enthusiastic response and that’s the one Kuniko makes. And so seeing a unique opportunity, I set myself to learn her recipe more than dozen years ago now.
Apologies are a requisite tool in forming good relationships in Japan. Whether in business or with family, an apology provides a collective platform from which to move forward and get back on track when intentions or actions have gone a bit astray. But I’m unaccustomed to apologies. Cast as an admission of guilt in American culture, we are advised to refrain from issuing them and this difference has been a predominant and prevailing point of discord in our relationship. I do in fact feel remorseful when I have made a mistake or fired off a moody flick of the tongue, but I’ll rarely say so which Hanako cannot abide. Conversely she will cast the word about with such frequency and ease that it seems not to carry any particular weight.
Kahsiwameshi takes an inordinate amount of time to make. So many ingredients must be sliced into small pieces, then sautéed together before cooking into rice. And after all the effort, it’s gone within a blink of an eye. But it brings so much pleasure and comfort that one can’t stay mad and so Kashiwameshi is my apology, an edible olive branch extended in lieu of words. To master a dear one’s comfort food is a judicious endeavor and an offering of such a meal is powerful. It’s edible compassion. It can extinguish smoldering embers and even pave the way for bold proposals.