Samurai Yenta

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It’s hard to kvetch about being a Japanese Jew when you’re being spoiled by ladles of chicken schmaltz spoon-fed to you by your father, while your mother asks if you would like some more teriyaki sauce on your beef yakitori.

And did I mention my parents arguing about whether both challah and rice should be served at every meal?

Let’s just say they both usually got their way, which was a good thing. What’s not to love about a dinner table with both borscht soup and miso soup, alongside beef brisket, sashimi and some latkes just for good measure?

While that may sound like an overly-exotic combination for some, the sharing of cultural recipes passed down from both cultural sides is what brought us closer together as a family.

As a kid, I assumed everyone had parents who debated whether lox or sautéed salmon was the healthier choice well before “Omega-3 Fatty acids” was ever a religion, while I enjoyed both macaroons and mochi balls for dessert.

And the generation of food-love didn’t end with my parents. My Jewish grandfather “Booby” made a hearty feast of sweet and sour cabbage stew. And my Japanese grandma “Hatsuyo” was known for her Sukiyaki, also known as  “steamboat cooking,” made with beef, vegetables, soy sauce, sugar and sake.

Not so shabby.

You can bet my house was popular in my all-Jewish neighborhood. And I thought kids liked me for me. Who was I kidding? They just wanted to get closer to my mom’s home-cooking.

Word got around alright, and I couldn’t blame friends for wanting charoset and mandelbrodt served alongside chicken gyoza and udon noodles. And to make things brighter, my father was the resident stand-up comic with his borsht-belt humor and one-liners we awaited each night.

Dinnertime was “the time” we felt most connected; a moment when we could forget about the angst we often felt as a culturally blended family, in the days when interfaith families were far from being accepted.

Comedian Milton Berle once observed, “Any time a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.”

Posted on May 13, 2014
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