Granny's Comfort Food
September 12, 2018
Elaine Murata Sunoo, guest contributor
My Grandma played a major role in our family throughout our lives. One of many memories is Grandma in the kitchen. She owned the kitchen!
After World War II, as Japanese-American families began their resettlement after leaving the internment camps, it was not uncommon to have multi-generations living together under the same roof. I felt only comfort and security that my widowed grandmother, my father, mother, and older brother by six years all lived together. During those years, my mother, who loved to cook, enjoyed having extended family and friends over for a meal at a moment’s notice.
But, life changed in an instant for us when my mother died very unexpectedly. She was 40 years young, I was 10 years young, and Grandma was 66 years old! She stepped into our kitchen and feeding the family became her responsibility and the kitchen became her domain.
I loved her cooking! I loved the Japanese meals she prepared: Rice, tsukemono, varieties of fish, vegetables. On special occasions, she would make maki sushi and inari sushi. Every Boy’s Day, she would roll sushi which she would share with the aunties/uncles/cousins and close friends. Every Girl’s Day, she would prepare (everything from scratch) sweet manju and again would share with many of us.
But, cooking was sometimes challenging as she tried to please her two young grandchildren. I learned many years later, that Grandma asked her daughters to teach her how to make a few standard “American” meals for us.
One day, as a high school student, I came home upset that as part of our club’s big potluck dinner event, several of us were asked to prepare and bring a casserole. I had only a very vague idea what a casserole was – and no clue how to prepare one . . . and I assumed Grandma was even more clueless than I. Turning to my brother, I explained my dilemma. Before I knew it, I was in tears, feeling sad that “If I had a mother . . . . “
Well, to my surprise, he suggested a do-able solution: Grandma, he reminded me, makes spaghetti using Lawry’s packaged spaghetti sauce. “Just cook some hamburger and onions, add the packaged mix and a can of tomato paste and water. Then, mix it together with cooked spaghetti noodles. Grate cheese over it all . . . throw it into the oven! That’s it!”
On the evening of the event, the casserole turned out fine. I proudly took it to the potluck dinner. But, I realized that I much preferred Grandma’s comfort food to the assortment of casseroles on the buffet table . . . and I came to appreciate her endless efforts to feed and please us.
Grandma died in her sleep peacefully in 1990 at age 98, after hosting a large family dinner two days earlier. She amazingly prepared some of her specialties! I know it was her way of saying good-bye to us all!
And now, as a 70-year-old daughter and grandmother, I am cooking my grandma’s Japanese comfort food for my 101-year-old father.
Elaine Murata Sunoo is the childhood friend and sister-in-law of JejuGranny. (In November, Elaine's father, Tetsuo Murata, passed away peacefully and quietly in his home in Los Angeles, California.)
Photo of Hisayo Inouye Murata – 81 years old
To learn how to make some Japanese comfort food, view: