The Bitterness of Life─Ikayaki, Japanese Seafood
essay, Aug. 2019
“I wanna eat grilled squid (Ikayaki).”
I immediately thought this because the beer on that summer evening was so delicious. I imagined how delicious the grilled squid would be while drinking beer.
When I was in my early 20’s, I didn’t like beer-it was too bitter for me. But now, it’s so tasty and my tired body after work literally absorbs it.
Maybe, it means I became an “adult?”
Though it’s always best to buy grilled squid at a summer festival, there wasn’t any festival nearby when I instantly wanted to eat it. So, I bought squid at the supermarket and grilled it in the kitchen, with a small amount of beer in my hand.
I washed the squid with water, gutted its fish and tiny bones, and cut its body into round slices and arms one by one. When I finished this preparation and warmed the pan, the beer glass was more than half empty.
While grilling the squid and smelling it, I remembered my childhood.
In the apartment building where I lived in my childhood, a summer festival was held every year. It was always at the end of August, so the last fun event for my summer vacation.
It was when I was in second grade at elementary school. Since the early morning, residents and neighbors gathered at the entrance hall and prepared many stalls where vendors sold food, such as fried noodle, cotton candy, apricot with syrup, takoyaki, etc.
There were also playing games like ring toss, shooting game, and goldfish scooping.
(Takoyaki, with octpus inside)
“Aya, I wanna eat Ikayaki. Can you go to the festival and buy it for me?”
“Of course, mom!” I replied to my mother eagerly.
I grabbed a cash voucher and took the elevator down to the entrance hall. I looked around and soon found a grilled squid, which smelled very delicious on a steel plate.
Since the staff was my neighbor, I didn’t hesitate to tell her “I want this!”
My eyes, which reflected in the mirror of the elevator, sparkled with pride that I achieved my work and the energetic atmosphere of the festival.
As soon as I got home, I handed the grilled squid to my mother and waited for and expected “thank you” and a compliment.
However, what she said was totally unexpecting.
“Oh, this is not what I want.”
“What? I’ve made a mistake? But this is Ikayaki.” I was confused and my eyes were losing brightness.
“Ikayaki is a pancake with squid inside. But well, this (grilled squid) is also called Ikayaki, too. So it’s OK, Aya, this is also delicious! Thank you.”
I first learned that there were two types of “Ikayaki” (“Ika” means squid, and “yaki” means bake, cook, or grill (in general, making food with fire) in Japanese).
So, I didn’t have to be ashamed of my mistake. However, I felt very embarrassed.
(Grilled squid ikayaki)
(Pancake ikayaki, with squid inside)
I was happy to help my mother, proud of buying Ikayaki by myself, and excited about the festival. However, everything turned into a bad result.
My mother’s kindness made my mistake stand out, and I felt more embarrassment. Tears started to drop from my eyes.
“I wanna be a smart and cool adult as soon as possible, who never makes a mistake.” I thought this in my mind, while my mother cheered me up as I continued to cry.
I, that girl crying on my mother’s knees all those years ago, was now 27 years old.
I already learned in my life that my basic personality never changed even though I became an adult: when I want to do something, I immediately do it without thinking carefully. When I know I make a mistake because of that, it’s always too late.
What I imagined an “adult” as a child was not like this. I was just “me” even though I wasn’t a kid anymore.
By the time I finished cooking Ikayaki, the beer glass was already empty. Today, I made both types of Ikayaki─grilled squid and pancake with squid. For the latter, I put soy-based sauce, which was sweet and salty, and also mayo.
When I ate the pancake Ikayaki with my second beer, it was a bit too salty. Maybe I put too much salt on the squid, soy-sauce, or mayo on the pancake. Or maybe that was because I remembered the tears I dropped when I was a kid?
At that time, I had never eaten nor known pancake Ikayaki. My mistake happened for a reason and I could laugh about it now.
Although Ikayaki was a bit too salty, it matched really well with the bitterness of the beer. Now I could enjoy its bitterness, and also the bitterness of my past mistake.
I thought I haven’t changed, but actually I became an adult, who could enjoy the bitterness of life.
interview, Sep. 2019