sweet tomatoe jam
It's probably typical for men of his generation but I've never in my life seen my father in the kitchen cooking. He is not in the least a gastronomical person; rich foods fatigue him. As long as there is rice and a little something to eat it with, he generally does not ask for more (the word gohan, equating "rice" with "meal," makes perfect sense here.) So when I tried to think of a particular food that I associate with my father, I almost drew a complete blank.
Sometime ago, however, I was in Antoine Westermann's gourmet food boutique in Strasbourg perusing rows of confitures by Christine Ferber when I saw something that triggered a memory. This was a jar of tomatoe jam.
It would have been after my family's return to Japan and around the time I was entering my rebellious phase. Sunday morning we would be sitting around the big Scandinavian table that dominated our tiny Tokyo apartment. Our standard breakfast would be dark roasted coffee, toasted slices of shokupan (Japanese-style pain de mie), fruit in season and, more often than not, a salad.*
Sometimes it would be a plate of sliced tomatoes. On those mornings my father would top his buttered toast with tomatoe rounds and spoon over some sugar. My sister and I would affect horror at the idea of putting sugar on a "vegetable" (we did not know better back then.) But occasionally my father managed to persuade us. "Just try it. It's good," he would say. The crispy toast would be soggy with the tomatoe's juices. It was buttery and succulent and I found it utterly delicious.
Nevertheless, I kept my distance to it. It seemed like another one of my father's idiosyncrasies, like continuing to wear jeans and long hair even after his peers in academia had switched to more professorial attire. I grudgingly acknowledged his originality yet was acutely embarrassed by it. I wished he would wear a suit and tie and eat his tomatoes with dressing.
Re-encountering the sweet tomatoes I felt that I had somehow come full circle. I am now able to admit I respect his palate, one that is uninfluenced by conventions or pretensions. I purchased the jar to take back to Japan, curious to see my father's response.
*Salad in the morning might seem peculiar but it's integral to the Japanese notion of "Western-style" breakfast. Possibly because the traditional breakfast of rice and miso broth includes pickled vegetables?