The thing is, there is nobody left to ask. Sure, I could type the words HAWAI’I SOMEN SALAD into the search bar and come back with thousands of variations. I do this often, scrolling through pages of images until I find a dish that looks like the long ago memory of hers. Of her. I read through list after list of the same basic ingredients, none of them right. I don’t want just any somen salad; I want my mother’s.
I’ve been trying to make Mom’s somen for years, every time there’s a potluck and I don’t feel like making row after row of SPAM musubi. All summer long as the kids are in and out of the freezer for Otter Pops and rounded nuggets from the ice machine. During the dark November of her deathaversary, after Daylight Saving Time ends and I struggle even harder to stay committed to this admittedly idyllic life.
I need to know how she made the somen. And how she really made it for once, not the “Oh jus’ throw ‘em all together” shrug she always gave while she was still alive. Because I’ve tried throwing it all together, trust me. I’ve boiled the noodles and sliced the char siu. I’ve cooked the egg just right, all thin and perfectly yellow li’dat. I even bought the square Japanese omelet pan that we for sure never had growing up. I shredded the carrots and the cabbage, the cucumber and even the kamaboko, never mind that I like half moons instead of those puny matchsticks that slip through my chopsticks. I did all that, futsed with the dressing until the sesame oil and shoyu, the vinegar and sugar, all made me happy dance at their harmony. Then threw it all together, just like Mom said. A week and a half later I threw it into the compost, uneaten except for a few hopeful bites that dissolved into failure on my tongue.
That’s mom for you, though. Disappointed. Never showing me how it’s done, always saying I could do anything if I just put my mind to it. If I tried hard enough. Clucking her tongue and making that face whenever I gave up.
It’s too hot for food so I look in the fridge, irritated that it’s bereft of the one thing I’d be willing to eat. I just want some fucking noodles for dinner, okay? I just want my mom. Well, sort of. But she’s not here and my noodles are terrible, and there is nobody left to ask all of the questions that are far more important and somehow less complicated than how to make a bowl of somen. She was the only one who knew the exact right chemistry, and now she’s gone. What am I supposed to do from here?
Image is of my mom and my cousin Candace in our garage for one of our family’s many potluck get-togethers. She doesn’t look particularly happy.