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9/10/2009

Remembering Far East Cafe

I was just thinking of Far East Cafe on First Street in Little Tokyo and how my family used to go there every month when I was growing up. Old timers remember family gatherings, weddings, and funerals. Growing up as a kid in the suburbs, I actually wasn't crazy about the food or the place, but my dad loved it, so we went on the 2nd Sunday of every month. We would meet my Issei grandma, who would cross the street from Koyasan Buddhist Temple to meet us for dinner.

When I got older, I would often complain about going... it's one of those places that you don't appreciate until it's gone. It closed in 1994 after the Northridge Earthquake. Nowadays, people young and not-so-young hang out at the Far Bar and Lounge.

In a parallel universe, my husband grew up loving the food, going with his family from Sawtelle. Here's a poem he wrote a decade or so ago, that speaks to his love of Far East Cafe and chinameshi cuisine.

China Meshi Dreams
by Tony Osumi

relaxing in a hot tub of seaweed soup

nori and egg whites swirl
pork shoulder bobbing

translucent broth
cover my shoulders
lowering my chin to take a sip

chashu

roasted brick red

chunks hang plump

like apples on a chashu tree
seedless

warm and ripe
there for the picking
licking fingers

shamelessly

not even my own

homyu
pungent and fresh
melting in my mouth
with hot mustard and shoyu
whipped into circles

golden as Van Gogh’s Starry Night
new research finds:

homyu

fat free

sodium free

and lowers your

cholesterol

shrimp and lobster sauce
ladled thick on steaming rice
a priceless
chawan treasure
overflowing with

orange rubies

black bean pearls

and egg white satin

magically

the last shrimp
reappearing after every bite


chicken chow mein
pan fried timelines
thread through shiitake and china pea
weave and tie us
to our pioneer past
every glazed noodle

guaranteed to have

an issei on the other end


pakkai
bell pepper and onion
witness the marriage
of pineapple and pork

with vinegar presiding

honeymooning

for seven days
and six nights
on a romantic lazy susan

almond duck

cradled by lettuce

spruced up with nuts

born from hard times

scraps of duck meat
pressed between
heaven and earth
working peoples’ salvation--
with gravy

my father says,
Almond Duck?

as hard to describe

as the grand canyon’s
beauty