Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside Japan. Nowadays, their descendants are a fundamental part of this South American country, contributing their traditions and heritage to its very rich and varied culture.
Yuji Kawasima, a grandson of Japanese immigrants, is very attached to the Brazilian culture, but also preserves part of the legacy of the Japanese culture from his parents.
When he was a kid, his parents spent hours almost every week making a delicacy that not everyone had the luck to taste in the artisanal way: Tofu.
Both of them had well defined tasks. His father was in charge of the initial part of the process. After soaking the soy, he peeled and washed the beans. Then, he mixed the grains with mineral water little by little in the mixer to elaborate the white paste. Later, he strained this mix to obtain the milk needed to make the so called “soy cheese”. His mother was in charge of the fire. For hours, she stirred the milk in a gigantic pot, and after adding some white vinegar she picked up the pieces and put them in a wood recipient made by Yuji’s father.
As a kid, Yuji watched amazed that big white block on the center of the table. Without completely understanding how it was made, or without enough patience to share the process with his parents who had established it almost as a couple ritual, Yuji would eat this white dough that melted in his mouth, soaking it in soy sauce… black sesame… wasabi….
He grew up with Tofu, and nowadays, thousands of kilometers away from his parents’ home, he buys it and eats it almost every day. “This is my legacy”, “My heritage”, Yuji thought as an adult. And so, he felt the need to learn how to cook it. He asked his parents to teach him, and that´s how, for the first time, Yuji participated in the full process. He bought the grain with his parents and chose the fabrics to filter the milk; he drained, peeled, mixed and cooked. Then, after several hours of hard work, he was able to experience once again that flavor that for him is more a feeling than a taste. Family recipes are not rigid; we usually don’t have a manual: “Family recipes are stories”.
He loves the texture of the soy… of the freshly made tofu. Something that for many is almost insipid, for him, is the definitive mark of his memory, his childhood, his cultural identity.
“I hope I’m able to make it the day my parent’s hands won’t be able to make it for me.”
Based on an interview with Yuji Kawasima. Picture from his family’s archive.
Brasil tiene la población japonesa más grande fuera del Japón. Hoy en día los descendientes de esta gran cantidad de inmigrantes hacen parte de la sociedad Brasilera aportando también, sus tradiciones y su herencia a una cultura rica y variada.
Yuji Kawasima, nieto de inmigrantes japoneses, muy arraigado a la cultura brasilera aun conserva el legado de su herencia japonesa.
Cuando era pequeño, sus padres, invertían horas, para poder tener en casa un manjar que pocos tenemos la suerte de probar de manera artesanal: el tofu. Continue reading →
It amuses me when people say: “you don’t have a Colombian accent” As if something like that existed!
Colombia is a country so rich and diverse that the differences between the regions are enormous. Not only when we think about accents, but also about customs and of course about food.
Barranquilla is a warm city in the north of the country, and is the place where Álvaro Oeding was born and raised. His accent and mine are not alike but some part of our personal histories is. We both grew up with our mothers in big houses with our aunts, uncles and grandparents, with huge kitchens and diner rooms full of people.
The memory of the squishy saucy meat, always accompanied by white rice and beet salad, brings Alvaro a lot of emotions, evoking the image of Abuelita* Ana cooking in the big pots to feed all the family. His mouth waters when he remembers the tenderness of the meat almost melting in every bite, soaked in that kind of tomato and onion sauce that even now he doesn’t know how to cook. A delicacy he longed when returning back home from school.
The kitchen was Abuelita Ana’s territory and the kids where not aloud in there. Therefore, Alvaro had to wait patiently in the huge glass doors dining room for his Tía** Cecilia to approach with the beloved dish.
Beets and onions! Who would have thought that such strong and particular flavours would arouse, even today, far from their native home, the nostalgia and the child that at his 30 and few years Álvaro carries inside. That child who grew up in a smaller Barranquilla where neighbours were like family, where children played in the streets, and where he returns whenever he can to keep savouring the delights that Abuelita Ana and Tía Cecilia, still prepare in the same old huge pots for the whole family.
*Abuelita= afectionaly for for grand mother (granny)
Based on an interview with Alvaro Oeding. Picture from his family’s archive.
Me hace gracia cuando la gente dice “no tienes acento colombiano” ¡como si tal cosa existiera! Colombia es un país tan rico y diverso que las diferencias entre las regiones son abismales. No solo en los acentos, tan bien en las costumbres y por supuesto en la comida.
Barranquilla, una cálida ciudad al norte del país es la ciudad natal de Álvaro Oeding. Su acento y el mío no se parecen en nada, pero coincide nuestra historia en que los dos crecimos con nuestras mamás en casas enormes llenas de gente con tíos y abuelos, con cocinas y comedores llenos de familia y amigos que pasaban de visita.
El recuerdo de la carne blandita en salsa, el arroz blanco y la ensalada de remolacha llena a Álvaro de emociones cada vez que evoca a Abuelita Ana guisando en esas grandes ollas indispensables para poder alimentar a toda la familia.
La boca se hace agua cuando recuerda la suavidad de la carne que prácticamente se derretía con cada mordisco, empapada en ese especie de guiso de cebolla y tomate, que todavía no descubre como reproducir. Un manjar deseado a la llegada del colegio. La cocina era territorio de Abuelita Ana y los niños no entraban ahí, por eso Álvaro debía esperar pacientemente en el comedor de inmensas puertas de vidrio a que su tía Cecilia se acercara con el añorado plato.
Vaya curiosidad, ¡remolacha con cebolla!, quién se iba a imaginar que unos sabores tan fuertes y particulares despierten a día de hoy, lejos de su casa materna, la nostalgia y el niño que a sus 30 y pocos Álvaro lleva por dentro. Ese niño que creció en una Barranquilla más pequeña donde los vecinos eran como familia, donde los niños andaban por las calles y donde regresa cuando puede para seguir probando las delicias que la Abuelita Ana y la Tía Cecilia siguen preparando en las ollas inmensas para toda la familia.
Basado en una entrevista a Álvaro Oeding. Foto de su archivo familiar.
Text by María Pía Mazzanti. Photo from family archive.
Food and nostalgia are two concepts that are more linked than we think. Nothing gets us closer to a place or a memory than the taste or the smell of our favourite dish.
For some time now, I have been studying this everyday subject. When people live surrounded by familiar flavours, they don’t realize how important they are in their lives, but when they live far away from home, being able to taste these memories becomes a significant experience. Continue reading →