When we were kids, my brother and I spent a lot of time with our grandparents in Sapporo in their tiny apartment. I can still picture it very clearly: the old black rotary telephone under a quilted cover, the tatami rooms we slept in – empty until we pulled our futons out from the oshiire – and my ojiichan sitting cross legged on the floor peering down through his thick black glasses at the dictionary.
He stopped going to school when he reached double digits but he knew more kanji than anyone I know. He loved to read and would write for the pleasure of it, spidery characters running down the sides of circulars and later, in letters to us, all the while holding forth to my obaachan who would be standing in the kitchen using up every last scrap of everything and telling me that every grain of rice raises a bead of sweat on a farmer’s brow.
I remember her pickling watermelon rinds so no part of the fruit would be wasted and she taught me how to smooth down a plastic bag and tie it in a knot so you could use it again and again. She was always doing something with her hands; she taught me how to hand-stitch using an old rag for practice, how to make misoshiru, how to handwash my smalls.
Sometimes we would go over to see my cousins and play on their coveted famicon. The cartridge slotted into the game console with a satisfying click and we spent hours playing Mario Brothers in glorious 8-bit colour. When my aunt Yukie told us it was time to eat though, we’d promptly stop. Especially if she was making karaage. I loved her karaage: juicy within, crisp without and with the faint imprint of ginger and sesame in every bite.
I suppose every kid feels like nothing will ever change, but that apartment is gone now, my obaachan lives in Tokyo and I don’t get to Japan as often as I’d like. Even when you’re contented in your life I think it’s a little bit heartbreaking when there’s no way back to a place either because the people or the places are gone.
But karaage heals all wounds, see if it works for you.
What place or time do you feel nostalgia for?
Make these with boneless chicken thighs, they will taste so much better. It’s worth boning the meat for if you can’t buy them already done, or sweet-talk your butcher into doing it for you. And leave the skin on too – hey, I never said this was health food. This should serve 2 hungry people but if you have leftovers, they’re great cold with Kewpie mayo the next day, or a small revelation at midnight standing in the light from the door of the fridge.
5 boneless chicken thighs, each piece chopped into about 4 equal sized pieces
A thumb sized knob of ginger, grated
1 clove of garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons of shoyu
1-2 tablespoons sake (both of these depending how much chicken you have)
A tiny drop of sesame oil
Cornstarch seasoned with a bit of salt and white pepper if you have it, for dredging
Oil for deep frying
Combine the ginger, garlic, shoyu, sake and sesame oil in a tupperware or bowl and put the chicken in to marinate for up to an hour, preferably out of the fridge. If it’s too hot, stick it in the fridge but bring the meat out to come to room temperature ten minutes before you’re ready to fry it.
Heat the oil so that a cube of bread dropped in will turn golden in 10 seconds (scientific, aren’t I?)
Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade and wipe off the moisture with paper towels.
Dredge the chicken in the cornflour and shake off excess.
Carefully put the chicken into the hot oil and fry until golden.
Drain on paper towels and serve with rice, misoshiru and maybe a salad.