We are huge fans of Sarah Kuhn’s, especially her Heroine Complex series, and were thrilled when we learned she was writing a Japan-set romantic comedy novel. Today, we’re delighted to have her as our guest to discuss I Love You So Mochi, and the inspirations and influences behind the book.
Whenever I take a trip, I plan at least half my itinerary around food. Or maybe it’s more like seventy five percent. Ninety percent. Okay, fine, it’s most of my itinerary and sometimes there’s a spreadsheet with little googly-eyed food stickers.
I love how certain flavors transport me immediately to certain places and conjure the most vivid memories. Spicy, garlicky shrimp might take me back to a windy strip of beach in Maui, questing for a sought after food truck that serves spicy, garlicky shrimp alongside fluffy rice and that perfect mayonnaise-y dollop of mac salad. Hearty meat sauce of any kind sends me to a tiny, always-packed Vietnamese place in San Francisco, where the Aunties ladle scrumptious meat sauce with a welcome heavy hand—and where I happily inhaled multiple helpings after road-tripping through the pouring rain with one of my BFFs. That, in turn, sends me back to childhood, my mother crafting her own Japanese curry-esque spin on meaty gravy over rice.
When I write about food in fiction, I’m hoping to give the reader a similar feeling, as if they’re taking a trip into the pages of the book. I want them to feel transported. Journeying to that character’s specific setting and memory and emotions. Maybe dotting the pages with their own googly-eyed food stickers. And if I’ve really done my job, said reader will be inspired to seek out their own new food memories right after closing the book.
Here are a few of the food items that inspired pieces of my new book—my YA debut!—I Love You So Mochi. These are all foods I grew up with and remain touchstones in my life and I’m so happy to share them with my protagonist, Kimi—and with you.
Mochi: Okay, so of course. It’s in the title! In I Love You So Mochi, Japanese American fashionista Kimi Nakamura journeys to Japan for Spring Break. She reconnects with her estranged grandparents, has a total identity crisis…and ends up finding romance with a cute aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. Mochi comes into play at many crucial points for Kimi: her dad makes different varieties for his restaurant back home, her new crush dresses up in that aforementioned costume (and does a choreographed dance) while working at his uncle’s mochi stand, and said crush uses mochi later to express just how much Kimi means to him. There is something about mochi—making it, eating it, gifting it as a way of expressing your innermost feelings—that just says love to me.And I believe the key to great mochi is the texture, which Kimi describes at length:
But of course the real treat is the mochi surrounding it, the wonderful rice cake that is somehow smooth and soft and chewy and ever so slightly gelatinous at the same time. My dad knows how to make it so it has just the right texture, practically melting in your mouth.
Panko: Those light, flaky breadcrumbs used to coat so much Japanese fried food are a beloved staple for Kimi, and lucky for her, she gets to experience panko goodness multiple times throughout the book. They’re part of her dad’s chicken katsu sandwiches, the coating for the potato croquettes she gobbles down upon arriving in Kyoto, and a key component of the Ebi Filet-O—shrimp burger—she falls in love with at a Japanese McDonald’s. Texture is also key for me with panko—it has to have that exact right crunch. That crunch says home to me in about a zillion different ways, and it does for Kimi, too. And like me, she usually eats anything panko-ed or katsu-ed way, way too fast, as she does in one of those first Kyoto scenes:
I cram one of the croquettes directly into my mouth. It’s lava-level hot and I let out a little whimper as it burns my tongue. It’s also so, so good—rich and hearty, the crunch of the panko giving way to that soft, potato-y center. I take another bite, even though I know I’m going to get burned again.
“This. Is. So. Good!” I exclaim, pointing emphatically at my sandwich with every syllable.
Inarizushi: Perhaps nothing sends me back to childhood so immediately as these simple sushi staples, rice stuffed into seasoned tofu pocket. Something about their gentle sweetness is both instantly comforting and energizing, making me feel soothed but also like I can take on any task with gusto—like Popeye eating spinach or something. This is also the case for Kimi—and I gave her one of my specific memories connected to inarizushi, which is the nickname my family had for it:
“My dad called this ‘pocket sushi’ when I was a kid,” I say, holding up a piece of inarizushi. “I guess because he thought that concept would make it extra fun or something? Of course he meant because it’s a little tofu ‘pocket’ stuffed with rice. But I thought he was saying, like, you could put it in your pocket.”
“How many did you stuff in your pocket before he realized?” Akira says, a smile playing over his lips.
“I think six?”
These are just a few of the foods in Kimi’s world, but I better stop there—because I’m starving. I hope you enjoy her eating experiences as much as I enjoyed writing them!
About the Author
Sarah Kuhn is the author of the popular Heroine Complex novels—a series starring Asian American superheroines. The first book is a Locus bestseller, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee, and one of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s best books of 2016. Upcoming projects include the Japan-set YA romantic comedy I Love You So Mochi and a Batgirl graphic novel for DC Comics. Additionally, Sarah was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award. She has also written assorted short fiction, non-fiction, and comics about geeks, aliens, romance, and Barbie. Yes, that Barbie. You can visit her online at heroinecomplex.com.
We’ve got one copy of I Love You So Mochi up for grabs (mochi not included, unfortunately)! The giveaway is open to addresses in the US and Canada only, and will run until June 1, 2019. To enter, use the form below–and good luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway