After some research, I learned that we were served shiokara. According to Wikipedia, shiokara is "considered something of an acquired taste even for the native Japanese palate. One method of enjoying it is to consume the serving at one gulp and to follow it with a shot of straight whiskey."

I wish we had been offered the whiskey.

The moral of the story: Be very careful when you say, "I eat everything." Death pairs well with whiskey. And if death is on the menu, eat it with someone you love.

Read musings on 
love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on
Read musings on love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on
Read musings on 
love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on
Cynthia Clark Harvey
Read musings on love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on


Read musings on love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on

Relish Tray | Kim Porter

My sister approaches me with her baby on her hip. "Me and the kids have to go," she whispers, "I think there's about to be drugs."

We're at our father's wake. "What makes you say that?"

"I just heard that woman tell that woman that someone named Susan was bringing a relish tray." She gestures discreetly to Kathleen and Janet, who stand in the kitchen grazing at the buffet table. "And the second woman said, 'Thank, God, I was hoping somebody would bring a relish tray. I love a relish tray.' And the first woman said, 'Me, too. I just love a relish tray!' And then they laughed."

I look around at the guests. I wouldn't be surprised if someone fired up a doobie. I sniff the air.

My father was a lifelong drug user. According to legend, the first time he ever took drugs was in elementary school and the last time was Monday, the day before his sudden fatal heart attack, when he dropped acid during Frisbee golf. Almost everyone at the wake is a person who has partied with him at one time or another, including me. My father's favorite high was marijuana. He smoked pot the way other people visit the restroom: routinely and without fanfare.

"A relish tray?" I'm not sure I heard her right.

"Isn't that a drug term?" My older sister is an exceptionally principled person with a sharp, analytical mind who, unlike me, chose early on to protect herself from the unsavory aspects of our father's life. For my sister, visiting my dad's house, being among his friends, must be like visiting a foreign country where she doesn't know the vernacular.

"I've never heard drugs referred to as a relish tray," I say. I'm tempted to laugh, but I don't because it would be mean and because the more I think on it, the more "relish tray" does sound like a plausible euphemism for drugs.

"It's just got to be drugs," my sister says, "Nobody could love pickles that much! It's unnatural."

When I was a child, we endured a period of poverty, during which food was scarce. This feeling of scarcity colored my whole relationship to food: how much I ate, how fast I ate, and how indignant I was that others were getting my share. The foods that showed up only once a year (holiday foods, for instance) were welcomed back to my plate like old friends who'd been cruelly kept from me.

We had a relish tray one day a year: Thanksgiving. Our tray contained pickles with folkloric-sounding names like gherkins and midgets, smooth bread-and-butter pickles that squeaked when you bit them, and "stuffed" celeries that fanned around the plate slowly sloughing off their cheeses. In the middle lay the olives.

Green olives are a perfect food, save for that off-putting red matter in their core. But I didn't have the luxury to be squeamish about the pimiento, as the competition for the olives was fierce.

My sisters and I would squabble about who was the bigger hog as we stuffed ourselves, eventually settling into a truce during which we took turns declaring our allegiances to this year's favorite pickle.

When the green olives were dispatched, I'd move on to the black ones. Licking the metallic juice off my hand, I would jam an olive on my thumb and pretend I was a carpenter who had injured myself with a hammer.

As we got older, we were put in charge of fishing the olives from their jars. Some of the allure wore off when I discovered that pimientos could break free from their host olive and float around in the brine, and if you weren't careful, they would touch you. Still, I loved the relish tray. But, when my older sisters moved away from home, and there was no one to gorge or compete with, I lost my zeal. The relish tray became just one more dish to wash.

(Eventually, I will have kids of my own and I will be excited to revive the beloved tradition. But, sadly, my children won't care for the relish tray. I'll realize, once and for all, that if I have no one to share it with, what's the point? If I want a gherkin, I can get a gherkin, and I find I rarely do. Turns out, it wasn't the pickles I relished.)

At the wake, I tell my sister, "If anybody does drugs, I'll stop them."

"I don't want to be trouble. I should just go."

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I would love to know, too!  I haven't been able to find a good Italian restuarant since I left the NY/NJ area in '86 to move here.  Keep trying different places, but none measure up, so I'd like to make my own gravy and meatballs.  PLEASE share!


Er,  what kind of "gravy" is served on your spaghetti?  I come from an Italian background on my Mother's side  and it is called "sauce" and made with tomatoes.  Just curious.  



In second and third generation Italian families from the NY/NJ area, it's ALWAYS called gravy, never sauce. Got another flash for you, we call it macaroni, not pasta. My grandparents called it pasta, but they were from Italy.......both sides. Matter of fact, there's a cook book by a women from NY/NJ titled "We Call It Macaroni"


@shazam47 @naoma   How lovely to hear from you.  My Grandmother was from Italy and spoke no English.  She lived in Pittsburgh.  I think it was called:  "spaghet."  Had a dear friend whose parents were also Italian and her Mom made her own spaghet -- and hung it over a chair after she cut it in thin strands (with a dish towel to hang it on.)  Her Dad made wine in the basement and if we'd bring guys around for them to meet her Dad would give them a glass of WINE (it was killer stuff) and her Mom always pronounced the guys:  "he's a so cute."  Loved her family.  Long gone; long ago.  I have a friend living in Paris who is Italian but now he considers himself French.  Speaks 4 languages.  


@naoma4man @shazam47 @naoma  Yes, that's another one, "spaghet". Wow, as soon as I read that word, it was like a wave of memories came over me. Living here in AZ for the last 39 years has dulled some of that "culture". Thank you!