When I was a young child, my newly emigrated, single-Korean mom worked in a Japanese restaurant as a waitress. After a number of years, her entrepreneurial and fearless spirit lead her to open her own Japanese restaurant and karaoke bar, Tomiyoshi, in my hometown. I can still remember being driven to the back alley of her restaurant in our 1990 Toyota Camry, always double checking the locks before closing the car door, and then being hit with the funky odor of the alley, that only a Japanese restaurant, Mexican bakery and dollar store could make. I spent countless idle and restless hours waiting for the mid-day closing time, waiting for a ride, and/or waiting for a meal. In a day, I'd spend my time spinning around on the small parquet dance floor (that could only feasibly fit three enthusiastic dancers, one bored child, or a handful of slow-dancing lovers). Then I'd play in a dank closet "office", followed by whisking the teriyaki sauce as I'd walk by the low-lit burner. I might straighten up some place settings and push in a chair. Then, I'd tell my mom I was hungry and wait at the sushi bar for some food. These dishes, Tonkatsu and Katsudon are a couple of my favorite from that time and they bring back the best memories.
It's been nearly 20 (!!!) years since my carefree and hungry childhood at Tomiyoshi and less since my mom's Korean restaurant (which was much less carefree and much more laborious for me). The rewards of growing up in a restaurant are many, but mostly I am grateful for the early exposure to how delicious food and kind service can make people feel relaxed, happy, and satisfied. It's hard not to feel like the world is crumbling around us during these uneasy and volatile times, but I think that those fears and uncertainty can be quelled, even if momentarily, by a meal prepared with care and shared with those you love.
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