Yu-Yu kai is where senior women from Nakatsugawa get together a few times a month and take part in a lot of activities. The activities include making origami, making Hanagasa, which is used for a traditional dance in Yamagata prefecture, and making other craft items. They also play a lot of board games to stimulate their brain and games that require light physical activity.
It was the first time I went to Yu-Yu. I was just going to introduce myself and come back. But the grannies told me that they are making “Imo-ni” and insisted that I eat lunch with them. I asked what Imo-ni was and they told me that it is a traditional summer dish particular to Yamagata prefecture. They were so excited and insisted that I try it. It had potatoes and other vegetables in a soup and the one they were making that day also had canned mackerel. I knew there was fish in there, I could tell from the smell. I have a lot of food items that I dislike, and fish tops the list. I tried to find my way of escape by telling them that I had a work deadline and other reasons to avoid eating but all the efforts were in vain.
While we were waiting for the Imo-ni to be cooked they offered me other items, which they prepared at their homes, to eat. I realized that day that, ‘One should never underestimate the superpowers of inaka grannies when it comes to feeding you.’ They just hate to see your mouth being idle.
They asked me if I had a boyfriend. I said no. Then they asked me if I was interested in marrying someone from there and staying back. Before I could think of a response, they started discussing among themselves who would be the most suitable husband for me. I was not taken aback, as this was a familiar scene from where I am from, India. I planned a trip back home two months back and had to cancel it because of covid. So the scene in fact comforted me, as I was missing India a lot at that time.
Imo-ni was done and we all went to take our serving and got back to the table. One of the grandmas started talking about having imo-ni in their childhood days. When they were in primary and intermediate school (65- 70 years back), once a year all the kids went to the river to play in the river and make imo-ni by building a fire on the riverbanks. There were no adults, and the intermediate kids took care of the primary kids. She was taking about how they made a huge pot and had a lot of fun at the river. Everyone agreed on to the nostalgic feeling and remembered some inside jokes and laughed. The way they spoke about the event from their childhood was so descriptive and I could visualize the scene. I took the bowl of imo ni and tasted it. The image of their memory was so vivid that it masked the smell or taste of the fish in the soup and I could consume it without any discomfort.
And she said how the taste of imo-ni made at home is so different to when you make it and share it with everyone like this. It was different indeed. It was the best bowl of soup with fish I ever had.