Monday, November 07, 2011

Japanese Family Dinner

Back when I was 9 or 10, I can remember dinners out with my Japanese side of the family.  We always met up in the banquet rooms of Chinese restaurants.  You might be asking why would Japanese people do this and I have no idea.  I did like Chinese food at that time so I did not complain.  (I now find it too greasy, salty and "sauced," but I digress.)  We met up with my many great-aunts and uncles, 1st and 2nd cousins and occasionally my grandpa and grandma (if the were visiting) to talk, drink tea and eat lots of Chow Mein.   Speaking of Chow Mein, I've still never learned how to make it.  But I hear there are culinary classes from accredited online colleges available, so definitely worth checking out.

My younger brother and I were usually the only children present so we had to entertain ourselves.  It being the 80's and pre-Gameboy or iPhone, our options were limited to playing with the chopsticks, slowly sucking up our soda with a straw, making sugar packet forts or drawing on the paper placemat with Dad's check writing pen or just wandering around the table/room/restaurant.  When an elder would catch us in their eye line, they'd try to have a conversation with us.  Everyone always asked about school which is part Asian cliche, part standard protocol when talking to a school-aged kid.  But it didn't take long to list off what we were doing and kids don't give a rip about what adults like so the conversation pretty much fizzled out.  There would be an uncomfortable silence and then they'd turn to the nearest adult and start talking again.

The Japanese folks were a lot less raucous and emotive than my Italian relations but they could still surprise you.  Once my great uncle Walter ordered a fancy drink but at age 9, I had never seen anything like it before.  To me, it looked like water in a triangular, stemmed glass.
So I leaned over and said, "Is that water?"
He said, "Yes!" (a bit to enthusiastically I should have noted)
"Can I have some?" I asked.
"Sure," he said as he slid it over.
I took a big mouthful which was okay for a second and then as I swallowed, it BURNED all the way down.  Oh yes, that would be a gin martini.  My normally reserved uncle howled with laughter and some of my other relations flashed a knowing smile.  I gulped down my own water as fast as I could to wash the taste out of my mouth and I never asked to try his drinks again.  Sure, it's not nice to trick children who trust you but I have to admit that was pretty funny.

So last Saturday, I found myself at a long table with many of my Japanese relations seated across and next to me.  Earlier that day, my family celebrated the life of my great uncle Bill who passed away in late September.  Ken and I were not at that earlier event but we were very eager to be at this dinner. It was in a Thai restaurant which fit the prerequisite of an Asian-cuisine-laden-in-sauces-that-is-not-Japanese. Only this time I was not a kid any more and ended up asking my younger cousin how school was going.  Sidney proceeded to wander around the table as my brother and I once did.  It's like this has happened before and will happen again.  The cast of characters has certainly changed.

Now you can pick your ending:

Sentimental:
But nothing says family like having a good meal together, reminiscing about those no longer with us and introducing the next generation to this tradition.

Realistic:
But nothing says family like Dad & cousins comparing receding hairlines, dealing with a toddler who won't eat anything and tracking the UW vs. UO game on Smartphones during dinner.

The cousins: Euge, Ken, Steve

Dad gives Sidney some coconut ice cream,
one of the few things she would actually eat that night.

Cousin Ali meets Sidney for the first time.

Ali holding Sidney.  Ali and Sidney both have dads who are called 'Ken Sakai'.
But only of them is actually named that.  

Great Uncle Hank & Great Aunt Juli.
Juli was later styling in her "hot" Juicy Couture hat (not pictured).   True story.

Riyo & George

Max & Rosanne

Little brother with cousin Dave and Great Aunt Susie

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