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Excited for my omiyage

Omiyage. A Japanese word I just learned, means gift. I am so looking forward to my omiyage of authentic Japanese rice cake. With chagrin, I assume it’s my gift. My Japanese friend related that her friend, a young male scientist coming to California next week, persevered in line along with seniors in a Japanese store, to claim bags of tsuki, the rice cake. Tsuki, not sold everyday but only seasonally, is very popular especially among the older folks in Japan. So, imagine her distinguished scientist friend elbowing his way through a long, aggressive line of senior women, to grab my tsuki! That picture seems ludicrous.

Wait a minute – did she really say that was my omiyage? Now, I have to be sure. Maybe I’ll ask her (shyly) when I see her today. She knows I go gaga over those rice cakes.

The other day, I gave that Japanese lady a small omiyage – a few sushis made by a Japanese chef of the cafeteria in my workplace. To me, they were among the best I had ever eaten. Three kinds – one was coated with wasabi and thus looked green all over; the other a roll wrapped in thin seaweed with slivers of cucumber and tiny shrimps inside; the third was without the seaweed but just sticky white rice around slices of cucumbers and crushed shrimp, topped with crispy popped rice or pinipig, and on the sides, thin lines of what tasted and looked like thousand island dressing. The last two carried a curious hint of sweetness. My Japanese friend said – yes, delicious indeed – artfully creative — but not authentic … Americanized, she opined.

I am no judge of what’s authentic sushi or not. The Japanese lady has made sushi, simplified in appearance, with seaweed wrapped around a cylindrical mound of sticky rice rolled around pieces of cucumber and scrambled eggs. No frills, no added sweetness, no crunch – just plain sushi rolls flavored by a wine vinegar. Her sushi was good, just none of the fancy garnish or sweet toppings. Now, that’s authentic, simple and to the point.

In my previous blog, I mentioned a potluck for my friend’s scientist friend coming from Japan. My contribution is adobo. No authenticity here, since I plan to mix in, for color and added flavor, large pieces of white potatoes and yam. I’ve decided on artistic license in my culinary product. The white and orange carbs will certainly add panache to my somber brown, marinated chicken. To me, authenticity implies simplicity. At times, I pick artful over simple, especially in food presentation.

What would you choose – authentic or elaborate (if those two don’t mean the same thing)?

Oh yes – my tsuki omiyage? I take exception — I think that’s authentic, and I love it.

By the way, a little sidebar: some bit of trivia from my Japanese friend. She told me about a very popular drama series broadcast in the mornings that has dominated TV charts in Japan. The female protagonist is a young woman half deaf as result of having been sick with the mumps. The male protagonist went to Stanford University in California for a research collaboration. My Japanese friend pointed to the coincidences. She goes to Stanford for her postdoctoral research of the ear. When she practiced medicine in Japan, her specialty was the ear – and more, she also researched on the mump virus and its effect on the ear. She assured me, however, she has nothing to do with the drama series called Hanbun Aoi (meaning Half Blue, written by a Japanese woman, Kitagawa Eriko – interestingly, this writer, according to my friend, is half-deaf). I was kind of hoping my friend had a hand in the popular series, but I believe her.

In my books, however, she’s the hero – she introduced me to my omiyage, the tsuki!


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