Recipe Notes (by Alexia Moyer)
The novel: Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms.
The meal: Miso soup. Pork tonkatsu served with raw cabbage, rice and tonkatsu sauce.
The turning point: Our young protagonist, Muriel/Murasaki Tonkatsu cooks for her parents in an effort to get her mother out of bed and speaking again. At 1:45am, the three sit down to their well-earned dinner and eat their namesake.
Tonkatsu, as a dish, as a word, as a name, has several layers of meaning. As Sam explains to daughter Muriel, “Tonkatsu isn’t really a purely Japanese word. Ton, meaning pork, is Japanese, but katsu is adopted from cutlet, and I don’t know the origins of that word” (209). It is and it is not the family’s last name. It is not the name with which Sam and Kay (or Keiko) arrived in Canada. It is the only Japanese word Sam can remember once they decide to put Japan behind them. It is a name that represents a lost connection. Muriel is ever on the lookout for words, a vocabulary, that feeds her “malnourished culture” (99). Tonkatsu is one such word. The dish literally nourishes the family, and the last name connects Sam, Kay, and Muriel to parts of their cultural heritage that have been forgotten and/or denied. But, as Guy Beauregard rightly observes, Tonkatsu’s multiple meanings and associations “locate the family’s identity outside culturally ‘pure’ markers” (Beauregard 59). That Muriel learns of the food-related aspect of her name from Sushi, the “Oriental Food Store” clerk, is significant (and funny). Like tonkatsu, sushi is a dish that has not stood still. It travels, has evolved, been altered, appropriated, and re-appropriated.
There is sufficient detail within the scene (with the occasional turn to outside sources) to reproduce this meal. And reproduce it you should for, as it turns out, breaded, deep-fried pork is dreamily delicious. Plus, it will incite you to read or re-read this marvelous novel.
Beauregard, Guy. “Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms and the Politics of Writing Diaspora.” West Coast Line 29.3. (1994-1996): 47-62. Print.
Goto, Hiromi. Chorus of Mushrooms. Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1994. Print.
Photo Credit: Alexia Moyer