Sunday, November 30, 2008
Sushi for a New Generation
As a follow-up to my tea ceremony post, I would like to share my experience participating in a sushi family dinner at my friend Stephanie’s house. As I mentioned previously, Stephanie’s family is of a Japanese-Canadian background, and her family gets together a few times a year for a “traditional” sushi dinner. This day was special, as Stephanie was trained in the art of sushi making by her Aunt June, the family sushi-specialist. June explained to me that her mother-in-law was the one who carried on the sushi-tradition in her family, but she took over for her when she passed away. In this way, Stephanie is the most recent inductee into the tradition, and she will be able to carry forward for the newest generation of this family.
Stephanie, June, Stephanie’s mother and boyfriend Curtis, started prepping and making the meal early in the morning, for a 6:00 dinner. There were ten guests in total, and we all left with a hefty leftover bag. The final spread included tuna tataki, oshinko maki, tuna and salmon nigiri, sashimi, two recipes for California rolls (there was some debate over which type of vinegar was best), teriyaki chicken, futomaki, sunomono, a noodle dish, and bean curd rice dumplings. Dessert consisted of… apple-cranberry pie and ice cream! I think that this dessert brings up a crucial aspect of this dinner: this was very much a Canadian version of a traditional Japanese meal. As is the case for most Canadians, as the generations pass on traditions from another time and place, they are reappropriated, reinvented and renewed to create an entirely new tradition. This was also apparent in Stephanie’s contribution to the menu: tuna tataki based on a Wolfgang Puck recipe.
This distancing from Japan was also emphasized by a story from Uncle Dan Amano. Although both of his parents emigrated from Japan, Dan was born and raised in Canada. He mentioned to me that when he went to Japan, the Japanese did not know what to make of him. He looks Japanese, but is very Canadian in his demeanor, and does not speak Japanese. In this way, he is between cultures in Japan—he has an old Japanese lineage (his Grandfather was given land and a samurai sword by the Shogun of the day), but is very much a product of Canadian culture.
Another thing that this dinner got me thinking about was how much the West connects sushi with Japan, and how accurate this association is. The texts that we have dealt with have often included descriptions of food in them, but they do not often include descriptions of sushi or other formal foods. Angry White Pajamas for instance mentions “living off boil-in-the-bag curry rice” (11), and Pocari Sweat as means for sustenance. Norwegian Wood has a good description of Japanese food in the following passage:
“Midori’s cooking was far better than I had imagined it would be, and amazing assortment of fried, pickled, boiled, and roasted dishes using eggs, mackerel, fresh greens, eggplant, mushrooms, radishes, and sesame seeds, all done in the delicate Kyoto style.” (67)
Here, we have a description of a casual Japanese meal that is a far cry from the junk-food eaten by Robert Twigger, but that has no mention of maki or nigiri of any kind. In fact, it is a meal with ingredients and cooking techniques that could be found in any refridgerator in the West. This makes me wonder whether sushi as a traditional meal is of less cultural significance to the contemporary Japanese, or we are experiencing the culinary preferences of these characters specifically through these texts. Perhaps sushi maintains its role with Western immigrants from Japan, while it falls out of fashion with new generations of Japanese youth.
This dinner was a fantastic experience, not only due to the amazing food, but also because it provided me with an insight into how Japanese traditions evolve in a Canadian context. While this celebration undoubtedly shared many aspects with its Japanese counterpart, the Canadian-ness of this family allows for the creation of a completely new tradition.