I’ve been meaning to post this for quite awhile. It’s my research project that I did close to a year ago for my drama 476 class. If you’re a frequent visitor you probably already know that I'm a recent graduate of UW, majoring in Drama. Instead of writing a boring paper, I decided to go with the creative project option. So here it is, my creative research project on Phil Gotanda and his works…for your pleasure :D.

Approximately 20 weeks ago I accidentally stumbled into the works of Philip Kan Gotanda while searching for a monologue for a class. After skimming trough a few of his plays I became infatuated with his style of writing and the deepness that they carry. Gotanda’s ability to balance on the thin line between tradition and progress amazed me the most. For that reason, I decided to look deeper into his works.

Gotanda is a third generation Japanese American and the youngest of three children. He comes from a well educated family, the child of a doctor and school teacher. His family would be considered a part of the privilege class but, sadly their skin color did not grant them the high status. Having personally experience the rough side of life, Gotanda uses his past experiences to change the future. His plays deal with Asian American identity and stereotypes and how society encourages and feeds the monster. He allows the audience to navigate the bridge between his forbears perspective and his own as a Japanese-American (Sommer). He encourages change via self awakening, pride and acceptance. The battles that feed the Asian American revolution are in the plays themselves, in the sense that he is revealing and familiarizing mainstream America with Asian American culture.

I decided to employ my passion for cooking to reflect characters in Gotanda’s plays. The idea is to translate Gotanda’s message into a medium other than the stage. By offering his ideas in different mediums the public exposure rate is much higher and thus the revolution climbs higher towards success.

Sashimi Wannabe Fish Sticks

In Fish Head Soup, Mat Iwasaki a budding actor, fakes his death to run away and become an actor.
He returns home to convince his family that his career is really taking off and asks them for financial help to produce his own movie. Mat is portrayed as more Americanized than the rest of his family. Mat recalls the painful memory of the when his dad took him downtown and they were harassed for being Asian. It was the turning point in his life, which provoked him into deciding to act White in an effort to try to fit in. However, when he returns home he rediscovers himself and realizes life is not that easy. We learn that his acting career did not really take off; he became a porn star.

This Dish is dedicated to reflect Mat.
The Sashimi represents his heritage. The toasted bread crumbs rolled inside the sashimi represents the sashimi's desires to become fish sticks which is a metaphor for Mat’s desires to be white. The dish is served with both tartar sauce and wasabi to symbolize Mat’s choice of identity.

-1/4lb fresh snapper or mahi mahi filleted
-1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
-2 tbs toasted pine nuts, crushed
-2 green onions, blanched and cut into 3” pieces
-wasabi and tartar sauce

1) Buy the freshest fish possible, and slice fillets into thin slices.
2) Toast bread crumbs and pine nuts until golden.

3) Sprinkle bread crumb mixture onto sliced fish, roll into finger size rolls.
Tie the roll together with the blanched onion.

Spiced Tofu with Nori

In Yankee Dawg You Die, Bradley a young actor is ready to change how America views Asians trough his firm choices in his career path.
He refuses to accept any stereotypical Asian roles and criticizes Vincent, a fellow actor who is much older for doing so. Bradley is Asian and damn proud of it. He does not try to cover up his identity but instead, seeks to enhance and promote more modern views towards Asians.

Tofu is often labeled as flavorless, and thus is usually employed in the culinary world as a medium to carry whatever flavors one desires, suppressing the tofu’s unique taste.
Similar to the way Bradley feels Hollywood employs Asian actors to play stereotypical roles which cover up the true identity of Asian Americans. This dish represents Bradley’s critique and his effort in changing traditional views. Tofu is the center of the dish; it stands for the Asian American actor. The nori (roasted seaweed), and spices represent Asian heritage and they are used to enhance the delicate yet unique flavor of tofu.


-1 block firm tofu (1lb)
-nori (roasted seaweed)
-2 tbs sesame seeds
-1 pinch 5 spice powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 tbs panko bread crumbs
-dash of garlic salt
-1 egg white
-oil for frying

1) Cut tofu into small pieces, and size will do.
2) Mix together, sesame seeds, 5 spice powder, salt, bread crumbs, and garlic salt.
3) Dip tofu pieces into egg white, and roll them in the spices to coat evenly.
4) Deep fry the tofu until golden.
Serve warm with nori.

Green Papaya Salad with Spiced Nori Tofu and Ginger Sesame Dressing

In Yankee Dawg You Die, Vincent is first portrayed as one who accepts the labels America sticks onto Asians.
He is nothing like Bradley, he does not turn down a role that is degrading to Asians nor does he desire to change anything. As the play rolls along, the audience discovers that Vincent was once like Bradley.

This salad represents Vincent journey as an Asian Actor.
The spiced tofu and nori are the same as in the previous dish to represent the Bradley that Vincent once was. The salad that accompanies the tofu is a metaphor choices Vincent decided upon in his journey. For example, Ginger and Sesame are strong flavors and can easily envelop the flavor of the tofu. They are present in the salad to represent Vincent’s choice of accepting stereotypical Asian roles which holds the potential to engulf true Asian identity. However, the salad goes with the tofu; the tofu is still the center of the dish. The dressing which seeks to conquer the tofu is unsuccessful and is forced to embrace the tofu making its true flavor ever more desirable. This corresponds to Vincent’s choices their reflection in him.

-1 small green papaya, approx. 1 lb, peeled, and shredded
-Spiced Tofu and Nori (from previous recipe)
-soy nuts (available at health food stores)
-3tbs soy sauce
-3 tbs sugar
-3 tbs water
-2 tbs rice wine vinegar
-2” piece of ginger, crushed
-1/2 tsp sesame oil

1) To make the dressing, simmer together sugar, water, soy sauce and ginger for 5 mins., add vinegar and sesame oil.
Cool before using.
Toss together shredded papaya, soy nuts, nori, and dressing.
3) Arrange salad on a plate with spiced tofu.
Garnish with basil and sesame seeds.

Green Tea Rice Pudding with Chocolate Mousse and Kumquat Infused Water Lily Petals

In Ballad of Yachiyo, Yachiyo Matsumoto a young beautiful Japanese American girl, dreams of escaping her life in Kauai and merging into American society.
Her father encourages her to dream and reach for her dreams while her mother wishes to for her to be trained in traditional tea ceremony so that she can marry a good husband and live a low profile life. Yachiyo is sent off to live with Okusan to learn the tea ceremony. Yachiyo eventually falls in love with Okusan’s husband and gets pregnant. Okusan’s husband, Takamura refuses Yachiyo after she is pregnant. Yochiyo returns home and commits suicide by consuming ant poison.

Yachiyo is like Jane Eyre in many ways.
She is calm on the outside, but her heart is fueled by passion. She also carries the desire to step out of traditional Japanese expectations. In this dish, chocolate mousse is a symbol for the passion inside Yachiyo. The mousse is hidden inside a shell of green tea rice pudding. The pudding reflects the soft and elegant ways Yachiyo acquired trough the tea ceremony and how it covers up her deep desires. The water lily, similar to but below the status of a lotus, stands for her gracefulness and purity.

-1/2 cup cooked white rice
-3/4 cup water
-1/2 -3/4 cups milk or cream
-1 tbs green tea
-sugar to taste

1) Steep tea in water for 5 mins. Remove and discard tea.
2) Blend together in a blender, tea and rice.
3) Simmer rice and tea mixture over medium heat for about ½ hour.
4) Slowly stir in sugar and cream until pudding desired consistency
5) Refrigerate until set

Chocolate Mousse:
-1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
-1/4 cup milk
-3/4 cup whipping cream
-1 packet gelatin or 1 tbs whipped cream stabilizer
-1/4 cup powdered sugar

1) Nuke chocolate and milk in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds.
Stir and nuke for another 30 seconds or until mixture is melted and homogenized. Cool to room temperature.
2) In a cold bowl whip together cream and gelatin (dissolved in 2 tbs hot water) or whipped cream stabilizer until soft peaks.
Slowly add sugar and whip until stiff peaks.
3) Fold whipped cream into chocolate.
Pour mixture into a cake pan. Refrigerate until set.

Kumquat infused Lily Petals:
-1/4 cup dried lily petals (aka lily bulb, can be purchased at well stocked Chinese grocery stores)
-3 kumquats, minced

1) wash lily petals and soak in hot water for ½ hour.
2) boil together lily petals and kumquats until tender, about 20 mins.

Final Presentation:
1) Smear a small amount of pudding onto a plate.
2) Carefully scoop chocolate mousse and place it on the pudding.
3) Cover the mousse with more pudding and garnish with the lily petals.

Chilled Jasmine Tea with Mangos and Lotus Seeds

This recipe is dedicated to Okusan.
She is in many ways like Yachiyo, she is passionate and is scared by love. Okusan differs from Yachiyo in that she prefers to allow tradition cover up her true self. The lotus seeds represent her gracefulness, endurance, and purity. The mangos stand for the sweetness and exoticness that is present in her love towards Takamura. The jasmine tea symbolizes how she drowns all of this in being formal, timid and traditional; the tea ceremony.

-Jasmine tea
-sugar to taste
-1 ripe mango
-1/2 cup lotus seeds
-1 tsp baking soda

1) Soak lotus seeds overnight in solution of baking soda and enough water to cover the seeds by 2 inches.

2) Next morning, wash the seeds and boil until tender.
3) Steep tea according to package instructions, add sugar to taste.
4) Peel and dice mango.
5) Mix everything together and serve chilled.

No More Cherry Blossoms Kasutera

herry Blossoms is another word for the sexualization of Asian women. This topic comes up many times in Gotanda’s plays. It seems to one of his goals to break the habit sexualizing Asian women. Asian women are usually stereotyped as exotic and submissive.

In Fish Head Soup, we learn that Dorothy is a “cherry blossom”. Dorothy, Yachiyo, and Okusan all in way, appear to be cherry blossoms. However, this stereotype is always crushed by the end of the plays. The characters prove to the audience that they are like any other American women. The only difference is the color of their skin which causes society to label them as a cherry blossom. This cake is a modification of traditional Kasutera, Japanese sponge cake. Japanese sponge cake is just like any other sponge cake, parallel to Asian women are like any other women. But the cake’s assigned name, Kasutera like the color of one’s skin forces society to label and assume differently. The message is, the more we familiarize ourselves with something considered different the more we learn that there are no differences. We are all the same at heart. There are no more cherry blossoms as cherry blossoms are no different than the blossom of a rose.

-100g milk
-100g cream cheese
-50g butter
-150g Cake flour
-4 Large eggs, separated
-100g sugar
-pinch of salt
-1/8 tsp cream of tartar

1) Over double-boiler mix together cheese, milk and butter until homogenized, cool and add egg yolks
2) Fold flour until cheese mixture.
3) Beat egg whites until frothy, add cream of tartar and salt and beat till soft peaks. Add sugar and beat till stiff peaks.
4) Fold egg whites into cheese and flour mixture.
5) Bake in a preheated over at 350’f until golden.

6) When the cake is cooked, remove from oven immediately bang it on a hard surface (it’ll make the cake easier to remove later). Then invert the cake to cool. Remove the cake from the cake pan when it is completely cool.

Works Cited

Chang, Lia. "Philip Gotanda Revealed." Asian Connections. 17 Nov. 2002. Feb.-Mar. 2007

An interview with Gotanda about his motivation for his plays and how much improvement has in American society regarding the status and stereotypes associated with Asian Americans.
Gotanda feels America has over forward, and uses the example that the term oriental as proof. However, he still much more room for improvement.

Gotanda, Philip Kan. Ballad of Yachiyo. New York: Theater Communications Group, 1997.

This moving play is Gotanda’s based on the story of Gotanda’s aunt, Yachiyo.
Gotanda explains in the introduction that the story is part fiction and part non-fiction as his family considered Yachiyo’s past an embarrassment to the family and thus never talked about.

Gotanda, Philip Kan. Fish Head Soup and Other Plays. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

This collection of plays includes Fish Head Soup, Yankee Dawg You Die, The Wash and A Song for a Nisei Fisherman.
There is decent introduction that reveals Gotanda’s style and his inspiration for writing the plays.

Philip Kan Gotanda Official Site. 2005. Feb.-Mar. 2007

Phil Gotanda’s official site. It has a short bio on him but his up coming projects. However, the site hasn’t been updated since 2005 so some of the information is not so useful.

Rich, Frank. "2 Asians and Hollywood's Bias." The New York Times. 15 May 1989. Feb.-Mar. 2007 <http://theater2.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html>.

A review of Yankee Dawg You Die. Rich praises the play especially the ending when past (Vincent) and future (Bradley) work together and learn from each other.

Sommer, Elyse. "Ballad of Yachiyo, A Curtainup Review." Curtain Up. 1997. Feb.-Mar. 2007 <http://www.curtainup.com/ballad.htm>.

A theater review of Ballard of Yachiyo.
Sommer applauds Gotanda’s style of writing and ability to tie together past and present.

Comments (9)

On 11:55 PM , Florence said...

Dear TT & family,
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

On 11:40 AM , Little Corner of Mine said...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and family!

On 1:57 AM , jadepearl said...

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year 2008 to you and your family!!!

On 11:58 AM , Anonymous said...

Thumps up for your project, TT. You are so creative! I like the way you present “LIFE DRAMA” by FOOD. The deepest reason for people to change is food, isn’t it? From Guangdong to Ha Tien . . . and now everywhere on the world . . . I have something need to tell and now I know who should hear about it . . . Later on you will have something to link “Vietnamese Journey” to “Vietnamese Food” . . . By the way, I like your name TT because my youngest sister’s name sound the like (Titi). I have one Hue special dish, would you want to give it a try? Jin Woo

On 12:03 PM , Anonymous said...

Thumps up for your project, TT. You are so creative! I like the way you present “LIFE DRAMA” by FOOD. The deepest reason for people to change is food, isn’t it? From Guangdong to Ha Tien . . . and now everywhere on the world . . . I have something need to tell and now I know who should hear about it . . . Later on you will have something to link “Vietnamese Journey” to “Vietnamese Food” . . . By the way, I like your name TT because my youngest sister’s name sound the like (Titi). I have one Hue special dish, would you want to give it a try? Jin Woo

On 12:09 PM , Anonymous said...


On 8:11 PM , hoangtam/tt said...

Jin Woo,

sure, I'd love to give your Hue special dish a try.

On 8:15 AM , Thai said...

Hoang Tam, this is a very creative project, and you've done an amazing job! I'm Vietnamese, too, and I've learned to successfully prepare some dishes from your recipes. Thank you so, so much.

On 11:58 AM , vincent said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.