29 (Tue) December 2020
A Bowl of Fish Soup for the Artist
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with the Family
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (28) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 99 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922 – leading up to the 100th winner to be announced next year – I will also attempt to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book. Food plays a strong role in many of the stories; not surprising as the characters in most of the books are faced with adversity of some sort, including poverty, so they’re often very hungry and thus grateful whenever they get a bite to eat – as we all should be at every meal, literally give us this day our daily bread. The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1931) by Elizabeth Coatsworth, illustrated by Raoul Vitale. Set in Japan – presumably in the days of yore, based on various cultural cues, though it could very well take place today, given that Japanese culture remains somewhat old-fashioned – the book is about a poor artist whose housekeeper suddenly brings home a cat, to whom he initially objects but eventually comes to appreciate the cat’s apparent intelligence and names her Good Fortune.
Published in 1930, the book is to be noted for expanding the reaches of American literature to embrace diverse historical and cultural themes. The book is also commendable in blending elements of fable and poetry into a children’s novel.
Reading it in 2020, however, I wasn’t entirely impressed. Along the same lines as my reaction to Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (see 11.348 Beggars’ Food), written by a white woman who had spent a couple years in China as a Christian missionary, I felt an even greater sense of cultural misappropriation from The Cat Who Went to Heaven, written by a white women who had never even been to Japan. For example, every chapter ends with a “Song of the Housekeeper,” a poem with rhyme patterns and rhythms, as well as grammatical structures (e.g., “e’er”), that are uniquely English and entirely incongruous to the Japanese language.
Now let me laugh and let me cry
With happiness, to know at last
I’ll see him famous e’er I die
With all his poverty in the past!
[paraphrased in part]
When the housekeeper came back from the market and cooked the small meal, Good Fortune did not go near the stove, though her eyes wandered toward it now and then and her thistledown whiskers quivered slightly with hunger. She happened to be present when the old woman brought in a low table and set it before her master. Next came a bowl of fish soup – goodness knows how the housekeeper must have wheedled to get that fish! – but Good Fortune made a point of keeping her eyes in the other direction.
To come up with a dish to represent this book, I combined 3 elements from my culinary experiences:
- Lately, I’ve been developing a recipe for a spicy bean paste soup, somewhere between Japanese miso shiru and Korean doenjang guk.
- Previously, at a Japanese restaurant in Manila last year, I had encountered a dish comprising mackerel braised in miso (see 10.284 Saba No Misoni).
- Recently, from my on-going project to explore fish varieties popular in Korean, I had been looking to find new ways of cooking samchi (Korean seerfish) (see 11.325 Samchi Gui).
It turned out quite nicely. The bean paste broth was rich in fish flavor. The samchi was tender and sweet. A simple yet tasty dish, appropriate for a hungry Japanese artist – good for kids, too.
(See also FOODS.)
(See also PLACES.)