FoodCorps Friday-Finding Common Ground with Food and Family
By, Athens Land Trust service member, Kana Miller
Growing up, I was a quirky eater. I wasn’t a picky eater, but a quirky eater.
For instance, I didn’t like hamburgers. I still, to this day, don’t know why – I liked beef and I loved bread but together I wouldn’t have it. I also couldn’t stand spicy food. I know a lot of young kids don’t like spicy food either, but I had zero spice tolerance.
My parents however had zero tolerance for my quirky eating. They didn’t have time for it. I didn’t get chicken fingers, plain pasta, or any other special “kid-friendly” meals. I just had to make do and learn.
There was one dish my parents would make all the time, where I really had to learn to grow out of my quirky eating. My parents spent some time in India before getting married and they would regularly make Indian curry, to bring them back to their past. My mom would make the curry mildly spicy because everyone else in my family could handle a little spice. In order to eat and enjoy the meal, I would have to cover my curry in dollops of yogurt and handfuls of raisins.
Perhaps you can see why my eating habits were a little quirky – I’d rather mix together the savory, spicy flavors of the Indian curry with tangy yogurt and sweet raisins then eat curry with a little bit of heat.
Eventually, after eating this dish for many years, I was able to eat the curry with a little less yogurt and a little less raisins. Until finally, I could eat the curry just like the rest of my family, with maybe a spoonful of yogurt and a sprinkle of raisins. I learned to be a little more adventurous and to #trythings – even when the combination created a party of flavors in my mouth.
I also had to grow out of my quirky eating and become more curious every time we would go to grandma’s house. For my family, going to grandma’s house wasn’t simply piling into a car and going on a road trip. For my family, it meant piling into a plane and flying across the ocean to Japan.
Japan, which to me is the land of all five flavors – the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.
At my grandma’s house (my obachan), being a quirky eater wasn’t an option. I couldn’t really speak Japanese and she couldn’t speak English. The language barrier meant I couldn’t explain to her my odd eating habits. I had to eat whatever my obachan put in front of me, even if that meant eating a small whole grilled fish…
I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to have a relationship with my obachan, I could show my love through food. I tried and ate everything she made. I loved sitting in the dining room with my mom and her siblings as they ate everything and jabbered away in Japanese. I wanted to be just like them.
I started joining my obachan in the kitchen. I’d slip on these little rubber sandals we’d wear to go out to the kitchen. I’d watch her stand in front of the big gas stove, cooking away in lots of pots and pans. I’d hand her all the little plates, bowls, and dishes traditional of Japanese cooking. I’d eyeball the huge, fluffy loaves of white bread she always had (my grandfather’s favorite) and admire the colorful pickled veggies in the fridge.
Now, fast forward many years. I LOVE food. I love trying new foods and exploring the world through all the different cuisines. Whenever I get to enjoy the smells and flavors of Japanese cooking, it takes me back to Japan. It’s those flavors that help me connect to a part of myself that sometimes feels an ocean away.