Courtesy of Andrew Nakamura/MiC.

After scouring the aisles of every grocery store near campus, the faint neon sign reading “Kanbu Asian Mart” felt like my last beacon of hope before I gave up on my search. My hunt to find sushi-grade tuna had turned fruitless, and my heart couldn’t take another disappointment. I squatted in front of the refrigerator section of the tiny market and examined each shelf carefully. My eyes scanned past jars of radish kimchi and pastel pink boxes of mochi ice cream, losing more hope the longer I stared until a saturated yellow hue caught my attention from the top shelf. Finally, the golden treasure I had been searching for sat before me: pickled yellow radish.

I tried pickled yellow radish for the first time when my aunt brought oshinko maki—smaller rolls of sushi made of only seaweed, rice and pickled yellow radish—to our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I was a pretty picky eater as a child, but I wanted to try it since my family didn’t buy sushi very often. After almost dropping the roll several times, I finally figured out how to pick it up with my chopsticks. The crunch and the slightly sour taste of the pickled radish were surprisingly refreshing. I didn’t eat oshinko maki often outside of Thanksgiving dinners, but my love for the dish stuck in the back of my mind. 

Now that I’m no longer living in the residence halls, I’m forced to cook for myself. In some ways, it can be cumbersome to bus 20 minutes to the grocery store to buy ingredients, but cooking allows me to revisit memories of the past. Though I don’t eat sushi very often, I’ve formed a strong attachment to oshinko maki because it evokes memories of a time before the pandemic when my family could gather together. After an unconventional freshman year in Michigan, spending four months at home was extremely comforting. Therefore, returning to the stress of school in such a different environment was a little disorienting, especially with the reintroduction of in-person classes. Every time I sit on my bed alone at 3 a.m., my walls illuminated only by my laptop screen, I reminisce on eating dinner with my family. Our busy schedules and the six-hour time difference between Michigan and my hometown made it difficult to contact each other. Instead, my apartment’s tiny kitchen has become my sanctuary. To simulate the comfort of my far-away home, I end up recreating dishes from different moments of my life, from the haupia my elementary classmates’ parents brought for school to the nori-wrapped ahi-tempura I shared with my dad right before returning to college this past summer. Remaking my mother’s tuna casserole and my grandma’s hamburger curry in my cramped apartment kitchen, constantly checking to make sure I didn’t accidentally burn anything, made me appreciate the time and energy they found for me even when they were exhausted.

While food allows me to relive the past, it also makes me contemplate the future. What kind of food will I make for my children? What new memories will I form as I continue to learn new recipes and share my food with loved ones? How can I embrace new dishes without forgetting the food that sustained me for all of my childhood? Now that I’m in a new space and a new period of my life, I’m surrounded by tons of restaurants with food I’ve never tried before; yet I still miss buying spam musubis at the gas station.

Amid all the stress of projects and deadlines, my craving for oshinko maki was the only thing on my mind as I walked back to my apartment. Once I stepped into my apartment, I kicked off my shoes and quickly skimmed through a recipe online. I took a sheet of nori from the package my dad mailed me and cut it in half. I carefully spread rice across two-thirds of the half-sheet, like how my mother set the table diligently enough to space each utensil evenly. I carefully swiped rice vinegar across the rest of the seaweed in order to seal the roll. As I rolled the sushi, I pressed down with the same gentleness my grandfather showed when he massaged my back as a child. Finally, I sliced the roll into six uneven slices. The plating didn’t turn out as perfect as the sushi my aunt bought, but it tasted exactly as I remembered. It tasted like home.

MiC Columnist Andrew Nakamura can be reached