Tyler Tsai: Furikake Gohan

Fatigue gnaws you as you slide onto the wooden stool of your favorite midnight diner. The air is smokey, pungent with the scent of shoyu and steam exhaling from the rice cooker. When it clears, you see your chef dicing green onions and cracking eggs, which he whisks into a creamy froth. As your eyes salivate and your stomach stares, the chef pours the liquid egg into a sizzling pan, which hisses as he slices golden jewel aspic into tiny cubes to melt over your hot rice. 

If you were presented with a bowl of rice with meat jelly and scrambled egg over it, you’d think it was a boring dish. Look closely, however, and you’ll discover the golden consomme cubes slowly melting into the rice, and as you raise the bowl to your mouth, the fragrance of ginger, spring onions and hot sesame oil mixed with sake and mirin coelesces into an umami bomb that blows the fatigue from your bones. 

This is furikake gohan, the rice bowl dish made famous by one of my favorite anime shows, Food Wars. Not only is this dish a secret menu item on the show, but also, it represents who I am. 

While on the outside, I may seem the typical Asian-American highschooler (good grades, instrument-wielding band-ite, forced to play piano at a young age), once the consommé melts on the rice, you may discover I am more than what I seem. I love band because it allows me to be part of something greater than myself, and it’s given me so many gifts I am its greatest advocate even though it swallows up my time like a hungry black hole. 

Speaking of black holes, it’s celestial bodies that keep me up at night. I want to explore deep space and visit exoplanets, foreign worlds I will never see with my own eyes. I also like to think about strange coincidences in history. On Halloween night, I was searching for my usual YouTube history “bedtime story” when I discovered Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s license plate contained World War I’s end date! So, I ponder, is this just a coincidence, or is there more out there than it seems? As Hamlet once said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

So what is my philosophy? Thinking about the butterfly effect–how it has taken a mountain of crazy coincidences for us to even exist and how one small ripple in the universe changes history. What if Hitler hadn’t been rejected from art school? Or what if during WWI, the most decorated British soldier who held Hitler at gunpoint decided not to let him live? What if Hitler hadn’t been asked to spy on the Nazi party, which contaiged him with their ideas? If history is the story of how everything happened, what if there were a different story? Would I still be me? 

The spiced furikake on my gohan is my love of culture, for I love people and thinking about how they act and think. Culture is one of man’s biggest influences, for what we surround ourselves with shapes our decisions. As culture sets the standard for what we consider normal, it’s vital we re-evaluate it as the status quo could possibly be what we most need to change. After-all, science advances one funeral at a time.

In my furikake, the foundational rice would be my passion for outer space, which birthed my interest in science fiction, and then pop culture. There used to be this YouTube channel called Stargazer I loved, and from it I learned about supernovas, which birth black holes. There are two ways a star can die. Smaller stars the size of our sun will expand and implode. When really big stars die, a supernova occurs, releasing two bursts of energy from opposite ends called gamma-ray bursts. What’s left is a core that gravitationally collapses into itself, forming a black hole. While the black hole moves relatively slowly, the gamma-ray burst sails across the universe until it dissipates and hits something. The other day, I dreamt about a gamma-ray burst hitting us, decimating humanity before I woke up. 

Yes, I am a nerd. When I’m not dreaming about space and girls, I’m dreaming about gamma rays and Earth’s mortality. There is a Bhutanese folk saying that to be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily, for it is only by knowing that we have but “an hour upon the stage” that we can make life more than a walking shadow. I do not want my life to be told by an idiot–full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

You may wonder: where is all this furikake leading? Perhaps my love of people and culture will lead me to becoming a diplomat, or perhaps entrepreneurial spirit and love of this planet will lead me to become a space or green tech entrepreneur. Anything is possible when you’re a furikake gohan.

FROM TSAI: “Because Taiwan has been influenced by so many countries, I grew up in a household that was open to change and new ideas. For instance, my parents have allowed me to sacrifice some typically important Asian things to invest in band–even though it eats my time like a giant Dune sandworm. I love my large rollicking extended Taiwanese family. My immigrant dad grew up sleeping on the floor in one house with all his cousins, and because of this, we are as close as happy sardines in a can.”


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