Cooking through my first year away from home
When I moved from Japan to go to college in the U.S., I was excited to start my new adventure and to meet new people. Going to orientation and participating in events, somewhere I thought I would quickly find a group of friends and feel instantly at home. But as the initial excitement subsided, and the celebration of orientation was replaced with the repetitiveness of class, I began to feel a deep loneliness — was it always this hard to make close friends?
Yearning for comfort, I would find myself scrolling through old videos on my phone, and printing out lots of photos of high school friends and family to post on my bedroom wall. I brought my favorite pillow with me, and even pinned up letters from my parents next to my bed. I thought recreating a familiar space would console me when I felt lonely, but despite my efforts, it still wasn’t home. The reality was, I was sharing a single bedroom with a roommate that I wasn’t quite close friends with, in a country far away from family.
On days when I felt particularly homesick, cooking became my escape. Desperate to avoid the crowded dining hall and stress of finding someone to eat with, I would take my big cooking pan and head to the communal kitchen to find some peace alone.
That first-year kitchen was a place of nightmares — a constantly broken, moldy sink and crusty countertops of unwashed cutting boards and laid out knives. But unshaken, I would take a big roll of paper towels to carefully move aside the mess, and clear a little space to make a meal that I longingly missed: a simple oyakodon with chicken, eggs, and onions.
How to Make a Soft and Comforting Oyakodon
Ingredients for 2 servings
- 200g of chicken breast, in cubes
- 2 eggs
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- Seasonings: 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, sake, mirin; 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of dashi powder
- White or brown rice, for serving
- Optional: Chopped leeks for garnish
- Mix the seasonings together in a glass bowl or measuring cup. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs.
- Heat up the frying pan and cook the onions until they turn translucent. Add the chicken and seasonings, and cook on medium heat.
- Once the chicken has cooked through, pour in half of the eggs into the pan. Once they start to harden, add the rest of the eggs and cook for another 10–20 seconds. Remove from heat.
- Serve on top of rice and garnish with leeks. Enjoy!
*Tip: To add more vegetables and make it a well-rounded meal, serve with steamed edamame or broccoli, or add in spinach in the oyakodon.
Meeting My Friends
As I spent more time in the kitchen, my hallmates would see me cooking and ask to join. We began to make dishes together, and slowly I began to make friends. Sitting on the couches in the lounge with our dishes in our lap, we would talk and laugh until more people joined, filling the room with a welcoming energy that I hadn’t quite felt since home. I can’t really pinpoint when, but eventually, my dorm felt less like a dorm and more like a community.
That last day of my first semester, as I readied my suitcase to fly back to Japan, my roommate called me over and handed me a wrapped-up gift: “I know you like cooking, so I thought you might enjoy this. Just a small holiday gift, to say thank you for being a great roommate.”
I carried my copy of The Hungry Student Cookbook throughout my four years in college and still have it today.
This piece is dedicated to my sister, who will be attending college for the first time this September and is already nervous 😊 New beginnings are scary and your experience will be different from mine, but that’s OK! Try not to stress, because you’ll miss it before you know it. With love, Kaki.