My mother is adorable. She’s lived in the US for over 35 years now. She has authored, edited or translated a half-dozen books — in English! But she still sends me e-mails with lines like this, in her recipe for Japanese curry, from ten minutes ago:
“In the same flying pan, add some more oil and quickly fly carrot, potato, onion, diced; and pepper, salt (other veggie, such as cerery, is also good; a bay leaf if you have one).”
Frying pan, mom. Frying pan! Celery!
I don’t know why, but it’s this kind of thing that endears me to my family the most, tugs at my heartstrings. The perfectly normal and understandable behavior that just happens to play into silly stereotypes (belly solly, sah!) even as it makes me slap my forehead. It’s not like I think confusing the English letters “r” and “l” is some kind of problem or deficit — after all, most of you probably can’t pronounce ryu, the word for dragon in Japanese. (And yes, the name of the guy from the Street Fighter series.)
Maybe it’s because it reminds me of when I was a kid and I had to proofread her galleys for little slip-ups like these. Maybe it’s because it’s just an essential part of the second-generation immigrant experience. You’re a kid, you’re an American because you grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and saying “duh, dookie brains.” And you’re kind of embarrassed sometimes, around some other people, that your folks talk funny or eat weird food. But you’re proud too, even if you don’t realize it. And then you grow up, and realize a lot more about what it all means and how it’s part of who you are.
I’m sure you all have stories too.
Hmm, should I post the whole recipe? It might be a family secret, but the secret mostly seems to have to do with the weird crap she throws in at the end. OK… it’s behind the cut!
OK, here’s the recipe, slightly edited by me as is our tradition.
1. Get some beef — not the good, expensive parts, but with some fat mixed in. Pork is OK too. Cut into cubes, salt and pepper generously, and fry in oil until the surface gets slightly brown. Transfer to a pan, a deep heavy one is the best.
2. In the same pan, quickly fry carrots, potatoes, and onions, diced; and salt, pepper. Other veggies, such as celery, are also good, and a bay leaf if you have one.
3. Put them all in a deep pot and add water until the stuff is barely submerged.
4. Cook for at least one hour. Longer depending on how much you’re making, but until the meat is tender. Longer at lower heat is better! Occasionally scoop out (and throw away) the white foam that comes up to the surface.
5. A half hour before it’s done, add cubes of curry roux. Shave it in with a knife and add more later if it doesn’t get thick, but don’t use too much. You can save it.
6. Season to taste. For my mom, this means some ketchup, sugar or honey, worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons of sake or wine, and a dab of soy sauce.
7. Garnish with pickled vegetables, raisins, fried shallot/garlic flakes, or grate cheese on top!
That’s right, folks. The main flavoring ingredient in Japanese curry is… CUBES OF CURRY MIX THAT YOU CAN BUY AT YOUR ASIAN GROCERY. This is how most Japanese people make curry unless it’s some fancy curry, because curry is junky comfort food in Japan. It’s basically not that different than garam masala spices mixed with oil and flour.
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