Teriyaki Chicken and Buddhism
Reverend Matt Hamasaki, Resident Minister
It is now August, which means that bazaar season is upon us.
Unfortunately, this year we are still in the pandemic and so it will not be like the bazaars that we’re used to, when everyone would come together to chat, work and eat with one another. However, we are still able to capture a little bit of spirit with one of the key pieces of bazaar: teriyaki chicken!
I’m not 100% sure why, but ever since I remember I was able to, I have enjoyed grilling. Maybe it’s because I like fire or maybe it’s because it’s in my blood, but either way I enjoy cooking food outside over a hot grill. Even back in college in the Japanese American Student Society, we had a “Welcome BBQ” where we would introduce ourselves to potential new members. I volunteered to cook the burgers and while others were mingling, I was happy to be making food for everyone. And don’t get me wrong, while I enjoy cooking, I also enjoy eating barbeque, especially when it is infused with a delicious smokey flavor!
These days, smoking as a cooking process does little more than impart flavor whereas long ago, it was used as part of a preservation process. Smoke has both antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that help keep out unwanted bacteria as well as stop the fat in meats from going rancid, especially in oily fish (who doesn’t like some smoked salmon!). It isn’t possible to preserve meats with smoke alone, though, so it usually is salted or dried also to help them last longer.
Although no one can be sure about the exact way smoking as a process was discovered, it’s thought that it was by accident when someone had the food that they were preserving too close to a fire and realized later that it made the food tastier, and it lasted longer.
It’s a fun exercise of the imagination for me to think about the first time that happened and how exciting it must have been to find a new way to make food yummy! Then thinking about how it was perfected over generations, but currently how our advancement in food science has made it more of a culinary tool than one of necessity.
Our practice of Buddhism should be, in a way, very similar. It’s important for us to learn and study the teachings. However, it cannot stop there, and we must apply it to our lives.
When we try out different things that we’ve picked up, we will have a similar experience as the person who discovered smoking food and have a bit of an “aha!” moment. From there, we will continue to try to use what we found to improve our life and perfect it.
Ideally, we will perfect it to the point that we would not even need to think about that lesson anymore; it has become a part of who we are. We will still use it, but unconsciously, bringing it to mind only when we want, no longer when we need it.
Thus, I hope everyone continues to try to apply the teachings in their everyday life so that your life eventually becomes effortlessly more meaningful, just as over the years the teriyaki chicken at your temple has become perfectly delicious.