The affinity between Chinese and Jewish cultures is well known (Chinese food on Christmas, anyone?), but the same can’t be said about other Asian cultures.
San Francisco-based Kristin Eriko Posner is changing that with Nourish Co., a lifestyle company and blog, which helps “ethnically blended couples and mixed race people create nourishing new rituals, drawing on time-honored wisdom,” particularly through her own exploration of the Japanese and Jewish cultures and where they connect. Often, not surprisingly, that intersection is food.
Posner was born and raised in California to a mother born in Yokohama and a third-generation Japanese father born in Kauai, Hawaii. Despite attending Japanese Saturday school and spending summers in Japan, as a child, she was not particularly interested in her Japanese roots and instead felt very much “in between”—neither Japanese enough, nor American enough. As she got older, she began to explore her heritage, discovering that her family’s documentation, and any knowledge of their history, had been erased. With so many question marks lingering around her own family, food provided answers, offering one way to understand and connect with her heritage.
Then she met Bryan, who came from a secular, non-practicing Ashkenazi Jewish family. Because so little was known about her own heritage, she became interested in delving into his heritage and connecting to him, his family and the culture from which he came. They began exploring Judaism together. Once again, food served as a special avenue. “There’s so much information in food,” says Posner; even the use of certain ingredients can teach us so much about culture, family traditions, socioeconomics and politics.
“Jewish Cooking in America [by Joan Nathan] was the first Jewish book I ever read. I read it cover to cover. It is where my love of learning about Judaism through food developed, and the first time that I consciously made the connection of what a powerful link to a culture food is,” she shares.
After she converted and as both her Jewish and her Japanese identities took root, Posner began to connect with others grappling with similar questions of identity, eventually identifying an opportunity. After years of working as an interior designer, she left to start Nourish Co. Nourish Co. combines events (for example: Posner’s modern Japanese breakfast, a racial justice seder for Passover, an annual event for the Japanese Day of Remembrance and programs with her husband, where they explore topics like ritual and tradition in mixed-race relationships and families) with a website where she reflects on everything from food and entertaining to challenging topics such as social justice, the politics and feelings of not belonging, oral history and rituals. A shop, with beautifully curated ritual objects for the modern blended family, is launching later this year.
The food section started with her recreating Japanese American recipes from her childhood, but using fresh, seasonal ingredients instead of the convenience ones she grew up with. Then she moved on to playing with Jewish recipes, incorporating Japanese flavors and techniques into traditional Ashkenazic dishes. At first, she says, she felt like a fraud by changing recipes, but again Nathan was a guiding light: “Her books show that people have been doing this [updating and tinkering with recipes] forever.”
Readers of her blog and InterFaithFamily.com, where she shares a lot of her Jewish-Japanese recipes, responded enthusiastically. People found her recipes and techniques interesting and refreshing, and were inspired by the fact that she sees herself as playing a particularly critical role in ensuring that Jewish culture is passed down to the next generation. One dish that she put a creative spin on, for example, was gefilte fish. Mixing other ingredients into fish to make it go farther is universal, she says, and it seemed like the Ashkenazic version could use a boost from the touches that make the Japanese version (called kamaboko) so delicious.
Dishes like the Kamaboko-Inspired Gefilte Fish and her Black Sesame and Strawberry Hamantashen, Mochi Latkes and Japanese-Style Baked Cheesecake for Shavuot are all examples of Posner’s own “cultural innovation,” which she ultimately hopes will inspire others to “remember their rituals, connect to their heritage and build community.” Sounds like a recipe for success to us.
All photos courtesy of Kristin Eriko Posner.