Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Too many cooks spoil the pork soup

Okaasan cooked!

Regular blog readers will know that this is such a momentous event.
She usually sits in her room watching TV or shuffles out just as food is being finished when we cook, and for herself she is about able to heat a saucepan of pre-cooked food, or zap something in the microwave.

But yesterday? Oh MY! And then...

It was a hard day physically for me. Two classes and the drive between them. SO happy the third class has vanished off the schedule until April. I couldn't do 3 now.
Before the classes I was on the computer fixing a shipping company in the UK to bring stuff back to Japan (only as far as Tokyo? what on earth will happen after that?) and arranging for a car hire at Heathrow Airport. Then the post office. Then two classes. Then the police station for an International Driving License (to drive in my country of birth...don't ask!).
A busy day.

At 3.30 I drove home thinking of the sofa and then dinner.
"Wish Okaasan would cook a bit, just help a bit. Could she make pork soup with vegetables (butta ziro)??? Nah...too hard ...all that vegetable chopping, sequences and timing. I'd have to stand in the kitchen and supervise her. "

Get home. Stay on the sofa for an hour. Recover a bit.
Go downstairs to make the soup.This is a standard of Japanese cooking - simmer chopped vegetables, add miso and bits of pork.

I start making it. 3 bowls of water, cut the potatoes.
Okaasan shuffles out of her room: "What are you making? Pork soup? Shall I help you?"
She set to: washing and cutting the vegetables I'd got on the counter. I thanked her profusely, took advice about which end of the daikon is better etc, hovered in and out of the kitchen to make sure she stayed on the job...and 20 minutes later: vegetables were simmering in the pot!

Kind of a lot of water. She must have added more when my back was turned. But in this recipe you add the miso later, so that's easy to accomodate for.

The thing cooked. I added miso and pork later. Left it to sit for a bit. Yujiro came home. We watched a TV program and shared the amazement at Okaasan cooking something.

7 pm I made the rest of dinner and we ate. All started well. Soup good, tofu good....I thought in all my foreigner innocence.

and then...

Okaasan spoke: "Is there potato in this soup?"
Yujiro: "Yes, there is potato, maybe it's broken up into the soup."
A few minutes silent eating.
Okaasan:" Is there potato here? There isn't enough potato..."
Yujiro: "Well, yes...more potato is better of course..."

WHY do Japanese people DO this??? WHY?

It is so so rude. Someone has cooked for you and served you. And at the table you complain about the food?? WHY?
My family in England - who are all dead now of course - would never do this. Or, if they did, it would be very jokingly and lighthearted. Not this direct, bland comments.

I absolutely don't get it.
And sadly I let rip. Told Yujiro and Okaasan in no uncertain terms that this is RUDE. And anyway - this isn't MY fault!! I started making soup with 3 bowls of water and 4 potatoes. Then Okaasan added much more of course...the potatoes disappeared into the liquid.
As she has dementia she didn't think about this and ask about adding more potatoes, and I didn't notice the increased water level and think either....and...and ...and...

And I left the table and went upstairs in a huff.
Which is bad, I know.
Yujiro and I talked it out later, and he bribed me into calmness with TimTams. But...
It's a cultural thing, this handing out of advice. Okaasan does it to Yujiro. He does it to me. Okaasan doesn't DO anything apart from watch Tv so we can't do it to her.... but I SO wish we could: "Hey! Okaasan. Your room is a messy and smells. You should clean up and throw away that week-old banana skin!"....I wish I could say that. I can't.
Yujiro says it isn't done as criticism or complaint, but as advising, guiding, helping.....I say that it could be done later after dinner, or done with a lighter jokey voice....but the doing and the way it is done is just so leaves me cold.


It all started so well. All such a positive experience for Okaasan. And real cooking help for me.
And it all ended so badly.
Okaasan will probably only remember all jumbled up negative thoughts about me-cooking-helping-her food...which won't be good for her mental state...and I just get another load of stress to help me start growing another tumour.


I want to go to England. Right now and start scattering Jane's ashes, clearing the house and scrapping with my step-aunt over who is doing a better, more responsible job as executer of the will etc.

It must be better than being here in a Japanese family with this yawning great culture gap across the dinner table.


  1. Perhaps it's just the inner gaijin coming out in okaasan - wanting more potatoes. Can never have enough spuds :D
    Hope she remembers some of the good though and offers to help again.
    hub starts his bits of cooking advice to me as 'don't get angry but...'

    Arrgghhhhh. Sure way to fire me up!

  2. Oh my god, this is by far THE most annoying thing in the world. Ryota still doesn't get that if someone cooks something for you, even if it tastes like warmed up cardboard, it's simple manners to keep your trap shut and eat it!
    I guess it's good Okaasan could help a bit though!

  3. You're absolutely right - it's a cultural thing. As an Australian living in Japan, it drives me nuts too. Even if I'm in a restaurant, observing a woman in her sixties giving her eighty-odd year old mother advice on how to eat (Jeez, just stick the food in your mouth, chew, and swallow, it's not rocket science) - I get really annoyed. Of course, the dear old mum doesn't care at all, she's used to it, they've all done it constantly all their lives. And don't get me started on my husband's advice on my cooking... I just tell him to do it himself if he's that particular.
    Back home, I'd always be surprised at the way Asian friends would follow their parents advice, when generally my parents wouldn't dare try telling me what to do!!
    Anyway, ganbatte! Thanks for the blog.


  4. Know exactly how you feel. Sucks doesn't it? But they do do it. It's done here in my family as well... *sigh*.... Gotten used to it by now though... but doesn't make it any better.

  5. So glad you all agree with me....Yujiro just says: but it's not criticism, it's help and advice, if I don't tell you, how will you know the best way to do XXXXX?
    AGH!!!!??? I'm 49 years old and am happy to muddle thru!!

    i'm not a great cook I know, but AT the table just eating the stuff is the polite thing to do...not carp on and on about its failings...

  6. I've never experienced that, but I agree how frustrating it would be! And yes, so bloody rude.
    As if you needed that right now too, bad timing hey. I hope you can go back home soon xx