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On Japan and the Art of Rolling Sushi

Understanding a Culture through Food

JAPAN | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [189] | Scholarship Entry

Shortly after my eighth birthday, my father’s job requirements uprooted our family from the sunny, touristy bowl of sunshine known as the Okanagan Valley and transplanted us to Telkwa, a village located six hours further north where there was not a library or cultural centre within thirty miles. I would have hated Telkwa had it not been for our neighbours Tamak and Koske.

I remember the first day Tamak and Koske came over to visit. As an eight year old girl, my main goal in life was to be a babysitter, so I was immediately fascinated by Koske. I had never seen a Japanese baby before in person; I especially remember adoring his tiny nose and the flat space between his eyes. I kissed him so much between the eyes that my mother warned me that I was going to rub off all his skin in that particular spot. After about a half hour or so of lugging Koske around the house, I appraised Tamak. What I remember most about her is her hair: long, past her waist, hanging around her face like a shimmering black veil. Her teeth were very crooked, but I was envious of how small and white they were.

One day, while my mother was making tea, Tamak began twitching in her chair, clasping her hands tightly together. Before my mother could ask what was wrong, Tamak leaped up, took out her purse, and produced a tiny red tin box and a strainer. She motioned for my mother to sit down. Within a few minutes, Tamak began pouring tea into the cups, using the strainer to catch the ethereal black tea leaves. I had never smelled tea like that before. Tamak pulled a slip of paper out of the red tin. It “read” oo-lang tea”. My mother was so excited by the tea that she ran to the Japanese/English dictionary and pointed out the words: Will—you—teach—me—your—food? That was the first time that I heard Tamak laugh.

The next day Tamak came to our door armed with bags of groceries, Koske tucked under her arm almost as an afterthought. Tamak solemnly presented my mother with several pairs of chopsticks, six little tins of tea leaves, and a sushi mat. Then she began the important task of teaching us foreigners to properly roll sushi. With nimble fingers she spread the rice on top of the seaweed (which she told us was called niri), chopped the vegetables and fish, arranged them atop the rice, and rolled it up, all in about a minute. My mother’s first attempt was so pitiful by comparison that I covered Koske’s eyes, which made Tamak laugh as she handed my mother more ingredients to try again.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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