Of Fish and Family
In 1982, mama opened New Haven county’s first sushi bar. The restaurant was named Miya, after her baby daughter. This restaurant was the culmination of her life’s ambition.
My grandfather had owned a successful lumber company and my mother dreamed of doing business with him when she was old enough. In the 1950′s, little girls from the countryside in Japan weren’t encouraged to pursue careers in business. Grandpa would sigh and compliment her, “if only you were a boy, you would make a great businessman.” She wished that things were different; it wasn’t fair being a girl.
In New Haven, cooking in a tiny apartment kitchen on Prospect Street, she put her university degree in nutrition to use by starting a catering business which would eventually become Miya’s. After thirty-five years in business, my mother is still as passionate about Miya’s as when she first began.
Often when I return from my trips, I find myself stunned by all of the improvements that my mother continues to make with the restaurant. More than anyone, she continues to drive Miya’s full speed ahead. “Maybe I will run a marathon,” she thought aloud to me the other day. I didn’t doubt she could, not even for a second.
“Then all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat so he gave up being king of where the wild things are”
When I was little, living in Kyushu, Japan, my Grandmother would pickle green plums and cucumbers in ceramic pots as big as laundry hampers. We would eat these pickles at every meal with steamed rice, misoshiru, and fish so fresh that their eyes shimmered like a young John Travolta’s.
I often miss my grandmother and Japan but I’m also so grateful for the worldly journey that my parents have allowed my life to become in America.
This cuisine is indebted to my mother, who is Japanese and to my father, who is Chinese. It is because of their differences that I adore and appreciate cultural diversity.
Just as importantly, this cuisine has been molded by everybody who has ever touched me in my life. This menu is my love letter to humanity. Thank you all for the love!
In our cuisine, we use the technique of sushi as a medium to explore what it means to be human. We take inspiration from a story that appears in the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, and in Ethiopian folklore about the Queen of Sheba traveling from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to seek the counsel of King Solomon. Upon arrival, she gave him spices from her home to honor him. This gift was incredibly meaningful; she was sharing with him the smells and the tastes of her homeland. King Solomon had never before experienced cumin, chili, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon and allspice, and the Queen of Sheba offered him the very essence of her faraway home for consumption. Food creates some of our most powerful memories; it can conjure up images and feelings of country, home, friends and family. Food is culture. Food bonds people intimately. In each recipe of ours, ingredients from disparate cultures are combined, symbolizing what is possible when people of the world live in harmony with one another.
We are aware that the restaurant industry has a very harmful impact on the environment; in particular, the traditional cuisine of sushi is destroying our oceans. Therefore, we try to maintain a restaurant in as ecologically responsible manner as possible. By following Seafood Watch's sustainable seafood guide, we do not use ingredients that are either overfished or that in their production have a negative impact on the environment. As a result, half of our vast menu is plant-centered; the other half does not utilize standard sushi ingredients such as long line caught tuna, farmed shrimp, freshwater eel, yellowtail and farmed salmon. Instead, we’ve created dishes that include hyper-local sustainable seafood not conventionally used for sushi including invasive species such as Asian shore crabs, European shore crabs, blue catfish, lionfish, and Asian carp.
What’s unusual about the sushi rice? Historically, vinegar, salt and sugar were added to fish and rice, as a method of preservation, in a time when there was no refrigeration. Though there is no longer the practical necessity to add these preservatives, they remain elements in the contemporary cuisine of sushi. Sushi rice today is highly processed and sweetened, much like the Wonder Bread many of us grew up eating. Our sushi is made from unsweetened brown rice, harking back to a time when people only ate whole foods.
What about our fruits and vegetables? Much of our produce comes from local organic farms, including our own - especially for the wild plants, - but when we source from far away, we follow, Environmental Working Group's guide to avoiding pesticides.
Is dairy sustainable? All of our cheese is made by cheese makers that promote the best practices in dairy farming - such as Vermont Creamery. For those who choose to eat dairy and meat, these are kinds of foods that should be eaten in small quantities and savored. It's not the artisan dairy and meat farmers that are destroying the environment - it's our insatiable appetite for cheap, factory farmed dairy and meat.
Why does the pickled ginger look different? It looks different because we make it without the food coloring or artificial flavors used in most commercial ginger. Our ginger is hand cut and boiled in four changes of water and then is pickled in vinegar, honey and Connecticut maple syrup.
What is the secret to our soy sauce? Our soy sauce is our own citrus organic gluten-free blend that is lower in sodium than any commercial reduced sodium soy sauce. We created it because traditional soy sauce is so salty that it overwhelms the flavor of the sushi that is dipped into it.
Our mother named her restaurant Miya because "Miya" means "shrine" in Japanese. For her, Miya's is a sacred space and her devotion to making food there is profoundly spiritual. So, it is our wish that your experience at Miya's is as nourishing and restorative for your soul as it is for your body.
If the Japanese Believed in Guardian Angels
At Miya’s in 1983, David Hayden spun out endless steaming plates of tuna teriyaki from the tiniest kitchen in town.
When I was nine, David took me camping to Canada. I went fishing and made sunfish soup. When one of the other kids poured too much salt in it – upsetting me, David fixed it by adding potato. Later, I glowed as the adults complimented me on my soup, as they navigated through the piles of bones and scales and eyeballs floating in it.
When I was fourteen, David and I wrestled on the carpet of Miya’s. David got a bump on his head. “Davuuuuuuuu!” I heard my mom reprimand. “…but it is common sensu!” I chuckled but David felt bad whenever my mother was upset. He was her protector and if the Japanese believed in guardian angles, David was my mother’s.
David retired from Miya’s to take care of his mother and passed away shortly after she did. At the end of his life, my mother and I and a great man named Bill Fischer were among the only few peoples he wanted to see.
At home, my mother has a traditional Japanese ancestoral shrine where she prays. The ashes of my grand parents are kept there. Some of David’s are too.
Recently, I found a letter that was written to my mom in 1993 by David. He had worked at Miya’s for over a decade at that point.
I want to thank you for caring about people, for caring about their health and growth as human beings first. You never did anything just for profit or for fear of losing money.
You set an example by your faith: with the courage to hold onto right principles no matter what the cost. Someone can be a good person and a good businessperson. Thank you for your patience and strength. I will not forget them.
With special regards – David