the conversations we have while we eat are pretty amazing sometimes.
while i was at school the other day, i decided to eat my school lunch in one of my first grade classes. i love eating with my first graders, and for the most part they love eating with me, too. i always get bombarded with all kinds of awesome questions, and i am always more than happy to answer them. “misha-sensei, what is your favorite color?” “misha-sensei, are you married? do you have kids?” “misha-sensei, do you like mini-tomatoes?” the list goes on.
a few days ago, however, i was shocked and a little saddened by a question a little girl sitting next to me asked. about halfway through the meal (during which i was making faces and goofy jokes and thumbwrestling kids), she turned to me all of the sudden and asked, “misha-sensei, are you really from america?” i was a little confused and taken aback, but i said yes.
what she said next threw me for a loop. “but you aren’t scary. americans are scary, right?”
as an american in japan, what do you say to something like that? what can you say?
i paused a few seconds to chew my ketchup rice and think of a good response, and the best thing i could come up with was, “yes, americans are scary. but they are nice, too. no matter where you go, there are scary people and good people. japan is the same, i think.”
just out of curiousity, i asked her why she thought all americans were scary. she told me, “because that is what the tv says all the time. you have guns and accidents and wars and stuff.”
when we finished our conversation, she was thoroughly (and thankfully) convinced that the tv was wrong. it made sense to her that the usa, just like japan, has good and bad people, and that sometimes the news does its best to tell you about the dangerous stuff in the world while forgetting that, just occasionally, you need a little bit of the hopeful stuff, too.
i didn’t write this post to bash television. true, i don’t like television, but there is a far more important point here. all it took for a little girl to have her trust in an entire nation of people restored was a school lunch, some silly faces, and a meaningful conversation. i think all of us, not just first graders, pretend that the information we receive from countless sources of media can be qualified as “interaction.” but that just isn’t true.
the ultimate and most genuine way of informing ourselves, especially when it comes to the affairs of humans who differ from us, is to interact with them and make an informed opinion. no amount of reporting or postulating or statistical analysis can tell you who a person is or what they are like. cultural integration won’t happen through bank accounts, electronic wire transfers, and the exchange of goods or services. it will happen plate of ketchup rice at a time.
i guess teaching is as much about teaching as it is learning sometimes. wisdom oft comes from the mouth of babes.
kyushoku chicken and rice
- leftover rice
- one or two cloves of garlic
- about a quarter of an onion
- half a chicken thigh
- one or two small green peppers (a.k.a. piiman)
- one or two shiitake mushrooms
- salt and pepper
- peel both the onion and the garlic. once you have removed the base from both cloves of garlic, mince your garlic and onion finely. set them aside.
- cut the tops and bottoms off of your piiman, and dice them.
- wash your mushrooms, then remove the stems and slice them medium-thick strips.
- wash your chicken thigh, then pat it dry. cut it into smaller than bite-sized pieces and sprinkle it with a little bit of salt and pepper (if you like).
- add some oil to a frying pan, and add your chicken. cook the chicken over high heat and try to make sure the outside gets a good crisp to it. allowing this chicken to sit (without stirring it constantly) will let this happen faster.
- while the chicken is cooking, add your garlic, onion, green peppers, and mushrooms. allow them to cook over medium high heat while your chicken is cooking all the way through.
- once you chicken is done, add the leftover rice. japanese rice has a tendency to be very very sticky when leftover, so you might need to break it up as it cooks or you will have big cold chunks of umixed rice in your final product. a tiny bit of water can help with this, too. just something you’ll need to be careful of.
- when the rice is heated, the chicken is done, and the veggies are soft, kill the heat. add enough ketchup to the pan to color and slightly flavor the rice. remember, there is lots of tastier stuff going on in this dish, so don’t overpower everything with a lethal dose of ketchup.
- dig in, and remember your younger days of school lunches, strange conversations, and silly face making.
note: this rice is super versatile. it can be used as the filling for omuraisu, or it can be made into rice balls if you decide to take it for a picnic. it also keeps for a few days if you want to use it in a lunch to take to the office. also, feel free to play with the ingredients. lots of veggies go well with this combo of flavors. i love eggplant and okra in mine.