“Would you like your miso soup with clams, seaweed, or tofu?” she asked, though I didn’t know it at the time. I stammered on, begging her to forgive my language skills and asking her to repeat herself just once more. She slowed down, repeating the question. She asked three times, at increasingly slow speed, until I understood just what she wanted.
There are few things that help heal a traveler like food. Whether it’s the familiar taste of home or the notes of expertise pumped into local dishes by a cook who’s spent her life working the same flavors, a good meal can be a powerful salve for homesickness. In the case of the understudied or the lazy — I was admittedly in the latter category for too long — what should be a time to recharge and shrug off the shock of a new culture, of chronological and emotional displacement, can quickly turn stressful. I managed to order that first meal, miso soup and all, but the taste of it sat heavy with guilt and self-doubt. If I couldn’t even manage to order a meal without fitting the part of the ignorant gaijin, how was I going to live here for a year? Continue reading →