April 5, 2019

Food for Thought

I came across this riceball specialist while wandering around in the East Village with @wandersauce. Grilled riceballs are common in Japan but I’d never had a deep-fried one, so I was intrigued by the idea. It’s a wild concoction but I liked it.

When my daughter started attending elementary school in the East Village, there was a small community of Japanese parents whose only mission was to make riceballs for school fundraisers. On the day of the event, we would bring our electric rice cookers from home and start cooking in the school kitchen. I was the only man among the army of Japanese moms. Most of them were married to white men; so they were useless anyway. The mom known as “The $10 mom”—because she was known for her ability to feed her family for $10 a day—was a natural comedian and she kept me laughing. Some of us sold the riceballs while some kept making more.

Our riceballs were famous and they flew off the shelf. As soon as the doors opened, the kids would swarm around the table to buy them. The secret ingredient? Nothing. It was just rice with nothing in it; that’s how the kids liked it. If we put anything in it, they would pick it out and toss it. Apparently, many of them would beg their parents to make riceballs at home but for some reason, they couldn’t. For a while, I was puzzled as to why. I eventually figured out that they were using long grain rice which does not stick together. Regular supermarkets don’t carry short grain rice. Going to a Japanese specialty store and selecting the right bag of rice was too challenging for them. Japanese restaurants don’t serve riceballs with nothing inside. So the kids had to patiently wait for these fundraising events for their riceball fix. Asian kids in the suburbs are usually shy about the lunch their parents make because it looks and smells strange to American kids. In the East Village, they were envious of the Japanese kids who brought these riceballs from home.

Sadly, by the time my daughter had graduated, the Japanese community was all but gone. From what I heard, the younger generations are no longer interested in coming to the US, so the river simply dried up.