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Mon Jun 19, 2017, 10:02 AM

Writing about food: Banana Yoshimoto's "Kitchen"

"The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. ... Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. ... I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction -- vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom. Strangely, it's better if this kind of kitchen is large. I lean up against the silver door of a towering giant refrigerator stocked with enough food to get through a winter. When I raise my eyes from the oil-spattered gas burner and the rusty kitchen knife, outside the window stars are glittering, lonely. Now only the kitchen and I are left. It's just a little nicer than being all alone.

"That summer I had taught myself to cook. ... Complicated omelets, beautifully shaped vegetables cooked in broth, tempura -- it took a fair amount of work to be able to make those things. ... At first my impatience would lead me to the brink of despair, but when I finally learned to correct my mistakes coolly, it was truly as if I had somehow reformed my own slapdash character. ... Getting the job I have now, as an assistant to a cooking teacher, was incredible. ... Why was it that I -- a novice with only one summer of study under my belt -- got hired? When I saw the women who attend the classes, it made sense. Their attitude was completely different from mine. Those women lived their lives happily. They had been taught, probably by caring parents, not to exceed the boundaries of their happiness regardless of what they were doing. But therefore they could never know real joy. Which is better? Who can say? ... What I mean by 'their happiness' is living a life untouched as much as possible by the knowledge that we are really, all of us, alone. ... Every day I thrilled with pleasure at the challenges tomorrow would bring. Memorizing the recipe, I would make carrot cakes that included a bit of my soul. At the supermarket I would stare at a bright red tomato, loving it for dear life. ... No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die.

"I walked along, stepping on my shadow, watching it lengthen and shorten with every streetlight I passed. ... I peered into the darkened windows of souvenir shops and I spotted the light coming from a small eatery that was still open. ... I craved something heavy and filling, so I ordered deep-fried pork in broth over rice. ... This katsudon, encountered almost by accident, was made with unusual skill, I must say. Good quality meat, excellent broth, the eggs and onions handled beautifully, the rice with just the right degree of firmness to hold up in the broth -- it was flawless. ... I impulsively said to the counterman, 'Can this be made to go? Would you make me another one, please?' That's how I came to find myself standing alone in the street, close to midnight, belly pleasantly full, a hot takeout container of katsudon in my hands, completely bewildered as to how to proceed."

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