My grandmother fed me strange things.
At the time, I didn’t know that dried squid as a snack or tiny anchovies and seaweed on my rice was strange at all. Or that every kid on my block wasn’t eating sweet candies wrapped in rice paper or spicy noodles topped with a sauce I could never really pronounce.
She cooked what she knew and making do with what she had available, often serving a bizarre mixture of Japanese / America dishes (before fusion was a concept) such as cabbage pancake and top-ramen sukiyaki.
Thinking back, I’m grateful to her for shaping my food palette early, for feeding me octopus, escargot and okaki. As an adult, I appreciate the difference in texture and preparation, and the very strangeness of it all. It’s become my comfort food, wrapped up in a sense of nostalgia for home.
Everyone has a special food that can take them back to a significant moment – maybe it’s something mom made on celebratory occasions, or a recipe shared between siblings. The act of eating it captures our senses and locks itself in our memory.
Every month or so, I’ll head down to the Nijiya Market in Japantown for a sense of that familiar kinship, searching for things I only know by sight and shape.
Nestled in a corner off Post Street, Nijiya can be crowded at all hours and for good reason; besides being perhaps the best Japanese market in the city, Nijiya carries amazing sushi-quality fish. If that’s what you’re looking for, head to the back.
When you first enter the store, you’ll find a selection of meal boxes and pre-made sushi, perfect for on the go.
As you dive in, you’ll quickly find the store is bigger than it looks and carries the traditional Japanese foods you’d expect to find. Vegetables, ramen, rice, seaweed, soysauce… and let’s not forget the candy.
After several minutes of wandering through the aisles and breathing deep of memories, I find what I came for and head home. These are some of the things that take me back to those days with my grandmother… The mochi won’t last long!
What foods make you think of home?
1737 Post St
San Francisco, CA 94115