Chicken Hekka is a dish originating from the plantation era. It is a Hawaiian version of Japanese sukiyaki and is still popular today.
Cook time: 5 generations and approximately 45 minutes
1. Boneless chicken breast
2. Dried Shiitake mushrooms
3. White planter elite to oust Queen Lili’uokalani
4. Canned straw mushroom
5. Long rice
6. Bamboo shoot
7. Enough immigrants to work the plantations
8. Green onion
11. More Japanese for safe measure
13. Soy sauce
14. Brown sugar
15. A large pan or wok
16. Your grandmother to instruct you
Step 1: Wash and soak the Shiitake mushrooms in warm water for about an hour. Ensure they are adequately submerged. Count back the generations of your family’s existence in this territory slash country to pass the time.
Step 2: Slice the boneless chicken breast into cubes. Become self-conscious of your cutting speed when your grandma offers to help. Begin to cut faster before accepting her offer. Now look—you’ve made her use the shitty knife that isn’t very sturdy, but she can still cut two breasts for your one.
Step 3: Cut the long rice in half before considering the politics of the word hapa. Soak the long rice in warm water while you cut out the politics of your identity. Realize you’ll never find the words for what you are in Japanese, Hawaiian, or English.
Step 4: Coat the pan in olive oil. Make sure to use your parents’ good olive oil that your mother got as a present from her boss. Cook the chicken on high heat for 5 minutes.
Step 5: After your grandma says the ginger is optional, decide against adding it. If her father never cooked with it, why should you?
Step 6: Contemplate converting to Buddhism—either Buddhism or Shinto. Religion is much easier to learn than language.
Step 7: Remove the Shiitake mushrooms from the water. Save the water for the broth. Remove the stems before cutting the mushrooms into quarters. Add the mushrooms to the pan on mid heat.
Step 8: Remember the only mainland Shinto temple is in Washington. Remember your grandfather’s family already built a Jodo Shinshu temple in Lahaina. Decide on Buddhism for convenience.
Step 9: Add the water from the soaked Shiitake mushrooms to the pan.
Step 10: Add the same amount of soy sauce to the pan. Don’t bother measuring it, it’s no use. Your grandma didn’t grow up with running water, so why would she have the luxury of measuring cups?
Step 11: Add less than a teaspoon of brown sugar to the pan. Fight the urge to measure it out. Measuring is a white slash American construct. After all your family has sacrificed, the least you can do is reject the Americanization of cooking utensils.
Step 12: Add the bamboo shoot. Consider apologizing to your grandma because this isn’t the type of bamboo shoot she prefers.The bamboo shoot you grew up on is of lower quality than she is used to. Maybe this isn’t about bamboo shoot.
Step 13: Rummage your pantry. Realize you have no straw mushrooms because of the national shortage. Contemplate the absence of straw mushroom as a metaphor for Uncle’s or The Other Grandpa’s deaths. Don’t bother with metaphors. The dish will taste the same, anyway. There has been a shortage for a while now. Your plantation-era predecessors have been dead for a long time.
Step 14: Cut the green onion into cylinders about an inch in length. Preciseness doesn’t really matter here. Make sure to separate the white part from the green part like white kids were segregated in English only Hawaiian schools. The white part takes longer to cook.
Step 15: Cut the tofu into questionably large chunks — larger than your mother would. Your brothers like it that way, and your grandma knows that. Allow your grandma to shift chicken and noodles with chopsticks to make an enclave for the tofu, despite being fully capable yourself. Do not insist on your independence, just this once.
Step 16: Search hopelessly for the words to console your grandma when she laments your lack of culture. Let the silence permeate as the words sting. Ask how to take responsibility for choices you never made.
Step 17: Accept your hatred for FDR. Do not care if this sentiment is anti-American. After all your family has done to Americanize, you deserve to hate this country for what it has taken from you — just a little.
Step 18: Understand that anti-Japanese sentiment stretches back to the other Roosevelt and beyond. Understand that the more you learn, the worse it gets.
Step 19: Ask about the curfews, about the war, about why your family has not spoken a word of Japanese for three generations. Do not expect a reply.
Step 20: Add the white opinion while your grandma tells you about your family from Lahaina. Fish peddler, coca-cola delivery man, pineapple cannery truck driver, sugar cane plantation workers. Balance imperialism with a better life. Realize there is more than one way to tell an immigrant story.
Step 21: Add the spinach. This is not an immigrant story.
Step 22: Wait for the moment your mother comes home with the language that in an umbombed world could be your language. Only then may you eat. Leave no left-overs for beggar’s rice when you do. For once, this dish may be entirely yours.
Jessica Bakar is a high school senior and an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. She has found a home in creative nonfiction although she dabbles in poetry. Her work has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, Ringling College of Art and Design, and Susquehanna University, and has been published in Blue Marble Review, Sepia, National Poetry, and elsewhere. When she isn’t writing, Jessica enjoys taking her civic education way too seriously.