Friday, August 20, 2010

Japanese Comfort Food, North Carolina-Style

A visit to my mom's in North Carolina always means the consumption of massive quantities of food. My mom is an excellent cook who blends her native Okinawan traditions with dishes she's picked up after living in North Carolina for more than thirty years. The result is a unique amalgam of flavors and textures that put a smile on my face and extra inches on my waistline.

Mom's Specialty: Egg Rolls

Like practically everything from the written language to fireworks, egg rolls originated in China. Like practically everything that originated in China and introduced to Japan, egg rolls have been adapted to suit the Japanese palate.

My mom's process for making these things is arduous. She spends hours chopping up the guts of the egg rolls (right). Last week, on the suggestion of my sister, my mom bought bags (seven) of cole slaw instead of chopping a few heads of cabbage and countless carrots. Tiny chunks of chopped pork tenderloin are also in the mix.

Once the filling (which I affectionately refer to as "goo") is prepared, my mom spoons it onto the egg roll (won ton) wrappers.

Won ton wrappers filled with goo and ready to be fried
This is where the "egg" in egg rolls come. My mom uses egg whites to moisten and seal the sides of the wrappers. That's it. I'm not sure why the food is called "egg rolls" when there aren't really any eggs in them. Oh well, that's not important.

Anyone who's ever tried one of my mom's egg rolls wants fifteen more. These aren't your run-of-the-mill egg rolls from a typical Chinese restaurant. They're just different. Perhaps the best way to describe them is "flat-out amazing."

Mom's Oden

Oden is typically a winter dish, but it's enjoyable even on  95-degree days. Using ingredients from Youn's Oriental Food Store, Mom cooked up a tasty and nutritious hot pot. Firm tofu, daikon, konyaku, and kombu swam together in Mom's own pork bone broth. Oden broth from mainland Japan is dashi, which is fish-based, but Okinawans love pork and incorporate the other white meat into almost every dish.

Mom served her oden with edamame, the quintessential Japanese appetizer. These beans are packed with protein and make an easy and healthy snack. Just don't put too much salt on them.

Mom's Rice

As in any typical Japanese home, Mom always has rice. I never actually see her make it; the steamy, fluffy, white rice is continuously in her Japanese rice cooker, magically replenishing itself. Rice is the main staple of the Japanese diet and is firmly ensconced in its food culture. The Japanese word for meal, gohan, also means "cooked rice." My mom considers herself lucky for having access to Japanese rice at Youn's and at the commissary in Fort Bragg because she feels Japanese rice is superior in texture and flavor. "I like all American food," my mom explains, "except their rice."


Anonymous said...

I so love your Mother's cooking. It has been years since I have eaten it, but I will always remember Chico's egg rolls.

shrinecastle said...

Thank you for your comment, Beverly. My mom's cooking is unforgettable, no matter how long it's been since you've had it, right? Sending best wishes to you and your family.


marc said...

This post is making me hungry. :)

shrinecastle said...

Mom wanted to ship a bunch of egg rolls to you. I told her it wasn't practical.