Thursday, December 20, 2007

Weenie Royale: The Impact of the Internment on Japanese American Cooking

Weenie Royale: The Impact of the Internment on Japanese American Cooking
Morning Edition -Dec. 20, 2007
Web Extra: Recipes, Internment Camp Remembrances

This historical Hidden Kitchen comes from the memories and kitchens of the Japanese Americans uprooted from the west coast and forcibly relocated inland after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In camps like Manzanar, Topaz, Tule Lake some 120,000 internees lived for four years in remote and desolate locations — their traditional food replaced by US government commodities and war surplus — hotdogs, ketchup,spam, potatoes — erasing the traditional Japanese diet and family table.

I (Davia) was getting my hair cut by Akemi Tamaribuchi. Imagine Audrey Hepburn if she had a Japanese-American father. That's Akemi. It was the first time we met, and we were in the midst of getting-to-know-you questions. She asked what I did, what I was working on. I told her about The Kitchen Sisters and the "Hidden Kitchens" series — secret, underground, below-the-radar cooking in America, contemporary and historic. She kept cutting, but didn't miss a beat. "Weenie Royale," she said. "Weenie Royale?" "We eat Weenie Royale because of the internment."

She began to tell me the story of her grandparents' four-year incarceration in the camp at Tule Lake during World War II. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, about 120,000 Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry were forcibly evacuated from the West Coast, their homes and land taken from them, and put into one of 10 remote and desolate locations until the war's end.

They lived in barrack-like conditions, standing in long lines for little food, eating off tin pie plates in big mess halls. They were fed government commodity foods and castoff meat from Army surplus — hot dogs, ketchup, kidneys, Spam and potatoes. The Japanese diet and family table were erased.

In the early years of the incarceration, grizzled old Army cooks, used to feeding armies of men, now fed women and children. It was wartime, with strict rationing for everyone. At the Topaz Internment Camp in central Utah, it was decided that no one except children under 12 would receive milk — 6 ounces a day. Pregnant women, because their children were unborn, were not allowed any milk. Tami Tomoye Takahashi, who gave birth to two babies at Topaz, found a Sears, Roebuck catalog and ordered calcium tablets to benefit her unborn babies.

In the chaos of the dining hall, families no longer ate together. Teenagers wanted to be with other teenagers. Old people, who had once sat at the extended family table, were isolated. Grandparents, parents and children broke apart in the face of mess hall dining. Mothers no longer could cook for their children. The family table, with its traditions and conversations, began to fade.

Akemi said that during this time her grandparents and parents — her father was a little boy then — began to acquire the taste for hot dogs. Weenies began to make their way into their postwar cooking. Weenies in eggs (the aforementioned "Weenie Royale"), hot dog sushi, Spam sushi. Ketchup crept into the cooking.

Akemi's story sparked this Hidden Kitchen story. It made us ask — What was the food in the camps? How did it impact the culture and cooking of Japanese Americans in the following years?

Millions of people live in refugee camps around the world now, being fed commodities and surplus. It made us think about the impact on so many cultures within so many nations when they are denied their own food and traditions, when they are forcibly displaced and their land and homes taken from them.

Jimi Yamaichi, director and curator of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, says the internment camps became a world unto themselves. Tule Lake, a camp in northern California, had chickens and a slaughterhouse where hogs were butchered for meat and rendered to make soap. About 3,800 acres were farmed by the internees. And the food grown there was sent to many of the other camps across California and the West.

Artist Howard Ikemoto said his father had owned grocery stores before the war and lost them all when the family was interned in Tule Lake. After the war, his father (whose given name was Ito and who later took the name Ed) became a gardener in the Sacramento area as did many of the other men who returned from the camps. At lunchtime, the men would meet to eat together either in a park or on a lawn they had just mowed. They would eat rice with a plum in the middle, a slice of Spam and corned beef hash in a tin.

Hot Dogs for Days

Yamaichi, a retired contractor, recently returned to Tule Lake with a group of former prisoners. It was their first visit since their incarceration during the war.

"Here's where the slaughterhouse was where we rendered the hogs. Here's the chicken coops," Yamaichi said. "They would bring carloads of hot dogs in by the tons — we'd eat hot dogs for days."

Takahashi, 92, grew up in San Francisco and attended U.C. Berkeley in the depth of the Depression. As World War II broke out, she worked at the Sheraton Palace Hotel, helping translate Japanese radio messages for the U.S. Army. Takahashi, along with her husband and parents, spent six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor interned in San Francisco at the hastily converted "Tanforan Race Track Assembly Center," living in a stable that held a horse. Then they spent four years incarcerated at Topaz Internment Camp in the Utah desert, where temperatures averaged about 125 degrees. After the war, Takahashi and her husband, Henri, went on to form the Takahashi Co., which sold furniture, home design items, and arts and crafts to major department stores and fine art museums.

Shousei Hanayama, the priest at the Buddhist Temple in Watsonville, Calif., remembered that after the war, American soldiers in Okinawa brought hot dogs and introduced them into the island culture.

Hanayama noted that hot dogs are still a part of the Japanese culture, pointing to the story of Takeru Kobayashi, who can eat 63 hot dogs in under 12 minutes. The winner of six consecutive Nathan's Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contests, Kobayashi revolutionized and popularized competitive eating with a technique called "Japanesing," separating hot dog from bun as he crams to victory.

Rice, the Soul Food of Japanese Americans

Within this hidden world of internment camp cooking was another hidden-kitchen tradition: the clandestine making of sake from leftover rice from the mess halls. Tamaribuchi's great-grandmother would dig a hole in the dirt floor of the barracks where they lived and bury rice in a pot and let it ferment. Old, burnt rice was saved and brought to ferment in any number of contraptions — keeping the forbidden tradition of sake alive in places like Tule Lake, Yamaichi said.

In the early years of the internment, prisoners were fed potatoes instead of rice. People in the camps rebelled, and slowly rice was added to the mess hall menus, though it was often prepared badly, served nearly raw or burnt. Ikemoto said his parents ate rice every day of their lives. He calls rice the soul food of Japanese Americans. —Davia Nelson

The Archives

In putting together this story we drew on an astonishing collection of archives, oral histories and images of the internment. Some were gathered by historians, anthropologists and remarkable photographers, like the legendary Dorothea Lange. Others were collected by the internees themselves. We hope you will explore some of the links we've gathered below and learn more about this under-chronicled aspect of our nation's history. - The Kitchen Sisters

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Kitchens Sisters on the Road for Hidden Kitchens Texas

Along the road...

The Birth of the Frito - Another Texas Hidden Kitchen

Morning Edition, October 18, 2007 · When we produced our 1999 NPR series, "Lost & Found Sound," we said we were chronicling people possessed by sound. With "Hidden Kitchens," perhaps you could say we are chronicling people possessed by food.

Charles Elmer Doolin is one such man. Possessed by a vision. By corn. By creating snack food. Doolin was obsessed with Fritos, his daughter Kaleta said.

During the Depression in the 1930s, Doolin had a confectionery in San Antonio. Always an innovator, he got a bug to put some kind of corn snack on his counters. Tortillas staled, so Doolin went on a mission. At a gas station, Doolin found a Mexican man making an extruded corn chip out of masa, frying it and selling little bags of the fried corn chips. They were fritos, "little fried things" — the beach food of Mexico.

Doolin bought the patent and 14 customers from the man and began to make the chips in his own kitchen at home, with his mother perfecting his recipe.

"His life was one big hidden kitchen," his son-in-law Alan Govenar said. Doolin had kitchens in his factory, kitchens in his lab, kitchens with test tubes and beakers in his house.

Kaleta Doolin said his kids were his guinea pigs — helping him test new recipes and flavors. Through these kitchen experiments, C.E. Doolin also invented the Cheeto.

Along the way, Doolin started hybridizing his own corn. The secret ingredient in Fritos, Kaleta Doolin says, is her father's own, special corn. He hired farmers throughout Texas to plant his varieties until he found the taste he was looking for.

Doolin and his brother Earl were modern, can-do innovative tinkerers. Soon they were taking Henry Ford's idea of the assembly line and conveyor belt and applying it to the manufacture of the Frito.

C.E. Doolin had big plans for this chip. He opened a Casa de Frito restaurant in Disneyland in 1955, and another one in Dallas. The restaurants were a sort of precursor to fast food, a hybrid between hamburgers and Mexican food.

When he invented the Frito, C.E. Doolin imagined them as a side dish, a handful to be served with soup and salad to complement a meal. He never imagined anyone would consume an entire king-size bag. He rarely ate them.

And if he brought them home, he would have grabbed them off the conveyor belt before they were salted. The Doolins were vegetarians, and barely touched salt. Kaleta Doolin took figs and yogurt in her lunch to school, not Fritos.

In fact, C.E. Doolin was a follower of Dr. Herbert Shelton, a San Antonio vegetarian and healer whose innovative theories on nutrition and fasting permeated the Doolin home. C.E. Doolin, who was overweight and unhealthy and had a bad heart, went to Shelton's clinics several times for 30-day fasts. Doolin ate no meat, no fat, no salt. Shelton, in his heyday, ran for president on the vegetarian ticket in 1956.

C.E. Doolin was an early franchiser and soon began distributing Fritos nationwide. One photo shows a "Frito Fleet" rolling through the streets of San Antonio, accompanied by a local marching band.

Doolin's wife, Katherine, was known for her social work and good relationships with the workers at the company. It was a strong, family feeling that made Fritos a legendary Texas business. Mrs. Doolin developed all kinds of recipes using Fritos, including Frito pie and Frito jets (Fritos dipped in chocolate and laid out on a cookie sheet — "fat on top of fat," Kaleta Doolin says). These recipes were printed on the backs of Fritos packages.

By the time of his death in 1959, C.E. Doolin had partnered with Herman Lay, and the Frito-Lay brand had gone global. But the company lost that family feeling. We now eat our weight in snack foods instead of the modest portions Doolin had in mind.

Kaleta Doolin is busy making a film and writing a book based on the history of her father's groundbreaking work.

We thank all in the Doolin Family who helped us tell this story, and Frito-Lay, which so generously shared its sound and images with The Kitchen Sisters and "Hidden Kitchens."

Next month on "Hidden Kitchens": The story of a kitchen tradition that goes back more than 1,000 years — Banging the Branch, the olive oil harvest on the West Bank.

Space Food: Beyond Tang - NASA's Hidden Kitchen

Morning Edition, June 7, 2007 · NASA's Johnson Space Center invited The Kitchen Sisters to visit its "hidden kitchen." On the eve of NASA's scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis, The Kitchen Sisters present a brief history of space food.
"This is Tiffany Travis calling from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. We'd like to invite The Sisters to come to our space food lab where our food scientists create meals for our astronauts on board the shuttle and the space station. I thought you might be interested in what astronauts are eating 220 miles above the earth. Bread is the number one enemy in space. You do not want crumbs floating around in microgravity getting into the electronics. Come take a look." — Hidden Kitchens Hotline Message #2203

We took Travis up on her invitation and set off traveling to Houston. Along the way, we followed the trails of some of the many Hidden Kitchens Texas calls that we had received over the year. Calls about oil barrel barbeques, cowboy kitchens, oystermen on Galveston Bay, the tamale lady at Fuel City in Dallas, a restaurant tucked down a driveway in Fort Worth, a car wash kitchen in El Paso, the garage kitchens of Vietnamese residents in Houston, and the space food kitchens of NASA. — The Kitchen Sisters

This week at the Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas


Texas Book Festival. Highlights at this year's literary celebration include 'Hecho en Tejas: A Celebration of Texas Mexican Literature' at 10 a.m. Saturday and appearances by authors Robert Draper, Kristin Gore, Lynne Cheney, Jenna Bush (above), Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Toobin, Douglas Brinkley and The Kitchen Sisters from NPR. Sessions are free and first-come, first-served. Saturday and Sunday, with many sessions at the Capitol. For a complete schedule and list of venues, go to

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stories from the Heart of the Land

A New Public Radio Series
Sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and VISA

Ask some of the country's best radio producers to tell their favorite stories about people and nature...and what do you get?

Stories from the Heart of the Land, a six-part radio series featuring intimate stories from around the world about the human connection to land and landscape. Jay Allison hosts this new series that ranges across the world — from Australia to Newfoundland, Mexico to Tibet, now airing nationwide on Public Radio nationwide.

The Kitchen Sisters present CRY ME A RIVER a portrait of three pioneering river activists — Mark DuBois, Ken Sleight and Katie Lee, and the daming of wild rivers in the west. The story explores some of the dramatic efforts to save wild rivers, the rise of the environmental movement, and the power of individuals to make a difference. Produced by Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva with Martha Ham and mixed by Jim McKee.

Also in the series
- Elizabeth Arnold went to the woods with grizzly bears.
- Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister stalked coqui frogs in Hawaii.
- Barrett Golding jumped on his bike.
- Scott Carrier walked with pilgrims around a mountain in Tibet.
- Jonathan Goldstein packed a tent and went camping, reluctantly.
- Sean Cole turned on his TV. Don't worry, it was a nature show.

In addition to the producers mentioned above, the series features contributions from Charles Bowden, Chris Brookes, Neenah Ellis, Ann Hepperman and Kara Oehler, Kelly McEvers, Bill McKibben, Jon Miller, Dean Olsher, Sandy Tolan and many others.

Links to listen
Learn more
Web exculsive interviews and images

Hidden Kitchens Texas Hour-long Special with Willie Nelson

An hour-long radio Special narrated by Willie Nelson, chronicles the Texas experience through food and the stories of people who find it, grow it, cook it, sell it, celebrate with it, and write about it. Check your local public radio station for broadcast times in your area or listen to Hidden Kitchens Texas online at

Friday, March 9, 2007

Come join us at The Hammer Museum
Thursday, March 29, 8:00pm
An evening of radio, readings, special guests and some LA hidden kitchens cooking.
A free event.
For details visit our website at

We’re still collecting LA hidden kitchen stories. Got one? Who’s cooking on your street corner,in your family? Who glues your community together through food? What LA cooking traditions do we need to know about? The event is the 29th, so point us towards your unusual, little known and clandestine kitchens soon. E-mail us at