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Sunday, Nov. 26, 2000

JAPAN LITE

Sweet potato season brings bloody good fun


These days I can see women on our island, all over 80-years old, carting piles of sweet potatoes in wheel barrows from their gardens to their homes. Japanese sweet potatoes are the size of hand grenades and have what look like fuses on the ends. I always think of artillery when I see piles of sweet potatoes. It seems like such a violent vegetable.

The sweet potato reigns supreme among the fall vegetables in Japan. It seems that not an autumn passes without some kind of event honoring this esteemed vegetable.

I suppose this is why a teacher from the Shiraishi Island Elementary School said to me last week, "Please come to the school and teach the students how you cook sweet potatoes in America." I told her I would, then rushed home and said to my husband, "Teach me how to cook sweet potatoes!" I had no idea how to make them.

My husband suggested fried sweet potatoes, a Peruvian dish. When the day of the Sweet Potato Event came, I went up to the elementary school. The first and second graders, all 12 of them, greeted me at the door of the school then lined up single-file at the bottom of the stairway and, in kindergarten robotic style, marched up to the second floor to their classroom where the Sweet Potato Event would begin.

Seven-year-old Mayuko, a budding emcee, went to the front of the classroom and shouted out orders: "Bow! (everyone bows in their seats). Welcome everybody. Today Amy has come to teach us how to make friedo sweeto Potatosu, a very popular dish in America."

Then the students presented me with their own "sweeto potatosu" that they had planted in the school's vegetable garden. After I inspected the goods and gave my approval, more students came up, shouted various things in unison, then went back to their desks.

The students went downstairs and readied the school kitchen. By the time I was summoned to the kitchen, all the students had been transformed into mini chefs with white coats and white hats.

"The students are looking forward to cooking 'friedo sweeto potatosu,' " said the teacher with much zeal.

I looked at the 7 and 8 year-old students doubtfully. Were they actually going to let these students use knives? If my second-grade class in America had been allowed to cook, we would have made sashimi out of each other in 10 minutes. At the very least, one of the boys would have, on a dare, lit the fuse on the potato just to see if it would blow up.

"Oh don't worry," said the teacher. "These students are very good at cooking. They've made fried tempura, curry rice and many other foods."

As soon as the potato slicing was under way, "Ouch!" cried one of the mini chefs, and held out a bloody finger. "Oh dear!" said the teacher and she led him off to the nurse's room. Just as the teacher came back into the room and assured me that it was just a minor cut, "Ouch!" cried Yuta. "Oh dear!" said the teacher and she took the second budding mini chef out of the room.

"Maybe we should stop," I suggested to the teacher. But she just smiled and said, "It's OK."

I went over to check on Takuya's progress and noticed he was stirring the potatoes with one hand while hiding his other hand behind his back. A peek behind revealed a bloody finger. He was taken to the nurse's room.

"Really, maybe we should stop," I suggested.

But the mini chefs were determined to make friedo sweeto potatosu, so the event continued. "Ouch!" said Mayuko, holding her finger. "Ouch!" cried Mari too. They were both taken away to the nurse's room. "I'm going to hell for this, I know I am," I thought to myself.

I was so relieved when we were finally finished and the students packed away their chefs' outfits. We returned to the classroom that was rather empty now since almost half the class had become victims of the sweet potato slicing. Soon they arrived, however, marching back into the classroom in kindergarten robotic style, holding up their white bandaged fingers.

I told you sweet potatoes were a violent vegetable. Or I'm the Ghost of the Bloody Finger.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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