Capture Your Family's Food Culture Before It's Too Late

She also used to make killer tempura – not too bready, and with the perfect, not-too-soy-saucy dashi. Most often, instead of making the tempura people are familiar with at restaurants, she would make kakiage tempura, kind of a comfort-food version of small bits of shrimp, snow peas, carrots and green onions breaded and fried into palm-sized pieces.

My dad passed away too young at 59, and after that my mom stopped making a lot of the more complicated Japanese dishes and just cooked for herself. A couple of years ago we moved her into a smaller house across the street from my younger brother, and she has given up more of her cooking.

She's now becoming more and more forgetful, and so we decided to ask if she would help us learn how to make two signature dishes, and allow us to videotape her. My wife Erin and I spent a day with her and made unohana okara and kakiage tempura, both favorite dishes of ours.

We had asked her years ago if we could videotape her cooking, but she refused then. I think now she knows her time is limited, and so is her memory, so she didn't complain. In fact she seemed to enjoy being the star of the production.

It was a powerful, wonderful day reliving family food memories and learning to make these dishes.

I'm glad we did it, and hope we can film more cooking lessons with my mom this year. I urge all JAs to do the same. Our family histories are important. But our family culture — including our culinary culture — is priceless.

Gil Asakawa is the author of the Nikkei View blog at, and you can see his mother's cooking videos online.


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