Illustrations by Rhia Cook // @rhiacookmakes
I put the leftover rice from my curry last night into a bowl and poured hot water over it. I’m not sure where I learned to do this - I think it’s an interpretation of Japanese ocha-zuké, where green tea is poured over cold rice to turn it into a palatable refreshing gruel. It’s perfect for hangovers and good for decreasing waste.
My Japanese grandmother Obaachan absolutely hates waste - a child of “The War”. If there was ever any rice stuck to the bottom of a pan, she’d simply add water and place it on the gas stove, stirring continuously. Maybe she’d quickly chop up a cabbage and throw it in – add a dash of soy sauce – spring onions. Why not crack an egg? Don’t you worry, we know what to do with leftover rice.
I use both hands to lift up my bowl and carry it surreptitiously into the garden tiptoeing across the patio. I manoeuvre onto a broken wicker chair and listen to the trill of birdsong. Peach coloured roses droop from their stems and the lavender is buzzing. I am in an English haven. I don’t want to be discovered here with my bowl of rice - something about this place and rice doesn’t fit, so I want to savour the secret that I’m enjoying it for breakfast.
I pull my spoon around the bowl and up to my mouth to get the intense salty taste of chicken stock, the spicy tang of curry cubes and the wholesomeness of white rice.
This is the longest unbroken spell I have stayed in England. Since I was a child, I would go to Japan every year to spend time with my grandmother. My world has shrunk enormously, just like everybody else’s, and so eating food has become an event. Slowly my mind is being re-wired to approach situations with more time and flex, simply, the world is becoming more bendy. Like a noodle being pulled through gelatinous soup.
I speak to Obaachan every Sunday although since lockdown it’s been more frequent – it was the best thing our family did getting her a smartphone. When I see her pixelated world on my screen it reaffirms for me that different realities can co-exist.
I see the rice-grass spun rope hanging from the kami dana in her living room. This small wooden shrine is a house for the many gods or kami and is positioned just below the ceiling, so when Obaachan holds up her phone, I can see the kami dana floating above her head in the background. On the altar stands two vases of freshly cut leaves, a cup of water, and salt on a white porcelain dish. It’s something special that over the frequent earthquakes her house has endured this shrine has never come crashing down. Whilst talking to her and taking in this familiar foreign background I tell myself yes, our worlds are very different, but I perfectly understand us.
Obaachan prepares rice for herself daily. She cooks one gō, a cupful of rice in the rice-cooker but when I’m visiting she cooks up to five gō a piece. ‘Rice tastes better when you are here,’ she said, because the grains become fluffier the more you cook. But when she said that, I was reminded that she eats alone every day. Obaachan who is such a good storyteller with her funny observations and character voices. Why should she have to eat alone? Well, her husband died, her eldest emigrated abroad, her youngest married-out to another family, and her only grandchild lives 10,000 km away. The two of them don’t even communicate in the same language.
As I eat my rice, I think about her. It’s not impossible that we could be eating rice at the same time. My mornings are her evenings. If we can’t be in the same place then by performing the same actions like in a ritual, we’re in a way, sharing in something. As I finish off a half-drawn circle stirring my spoon around the bowl’s edge, I take solace in the taste of our sacred white rice.
Rimika Solloway (she/her) keeps a creative writing blog called A Lack Thereof. She was born in Japan, raised in Orkney, and grew up in London. Her work has been featured in All My Relations Vol. 1 and by the Glasgow Women’s Library.
Rimika's work was originally published in Issue 5 of Potluck Zine. Get your copy of the issue here: