Any gaijin wife like me married to a chonan, or oldest son, knows the challenge that comes with her betrothal to a Japanese man: that as the wife of the chonan, she’s expected to take care of her in-laws when they age.
My father-in-law is a recent widower, so we try to spend as much time as we can with him. But I feel supremely fortunate that, not only is he kind and, even in his late 60’s, still handsome (a good indicator of my sweetie when he ages, I tell myself), he seems completely accepting of me as a foreign daughter-in-law. At least I think he is, although sometimes I worry that maybe he’s just being “Japanese,” showing a polite exterior, and inside, he’s horrified that his only son and eldest child married a loud-mouthed American. But we get along great—especially because, given that I speak barely any Japanese and he speaks just a little English, most of our exchanges consist of bowing and smiling at each other.
In any case, a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to try a new branch of our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Anngon, and we invited Otoo-san (“respected father”) to join us.
We met at the Shinsabashi station and from there walked to the super-trendy minimi-senba area, where Anngon is located. Otoo-san had never eaten Vietnamese food before, and he smiled as we entered and saw the bamboo-slatted ceiling with little red lanterns adorning it, embroidered umbrellas and straw hats scatted throughout.
We ordered bottles of Vietnamese beer (¥680) and started with fresh and fried spring rolls (both ¥650), the latter particularly good, stuffed with minced pork, vegetables, and garlic and accompanied by fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, and cilantro sprigs for wrapping. We also had a mind-blowingly good papaya salad (¥880), tangy and slightly spiced, with crisp rice-crackers on the side that crackled as we piled them with the shredded salad.
We moved on to cashew chicken, with a red, barely sweet marinade (¥880) and fresh, delicious sautéed greens with a light pepper sauce (¥900). Then out came the “Hanoi Favorite” sea bass and coriander in a hot pot (¥1280), sizzling hot and loaded with shrimp sauce. My husband and father-in-law chuckled at me when I decided the strongly-scented shrimp sauce was too much for me, but they looked pretty happy to finish the dish themselves.
I thought I may have seen Otoo-san blanche when, after all that, I ordered a dessert of fried banana dumplings with vanilla ice-cream (¥450) and a Vietnamese coffee (¥680), but whatever notions he may have had about my unseemly appetite were quickly dispelled when he tasted both. The dumplings were, quite simply, to die for, and the coffee strong and delicious, coming to us as grounds in a filter over a glass of thick, sweetened condensed milk, so we could pour the water into the filter from a little iron kettle and watch the dark brew seep down into the white creamy concoction.
As the meal ended, I managed almost a full sentence in Japanese, saying “Otoo-san, oishikata-desuka?” (was it delicious?). “Yes, delicious!” he smiled hugely and answered in English, looking from me to my husband and back again.
I smiled back, happy that together as a family we were well-fed, well-cared-for, and fluent at communicating about what matters most.
Anngon Vietnamese Café
4-11-24, Minami-senba, 2nd Floor
Osaka City, Osaka
Lunch & café time: 12:00-17:00
Open every day
Address and info in Japanese @ http://www.anngon.com/anngon/index.html
Map in Japanese @ http://www.anngon.com/anngon/access/index.html
Menus in Japanese and Vietnamese with pictures; Staff speaks limited English.