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Nikkei Chronicles #4 — Nikkei Family: Memories, Traditions, and Values

Taste of Okinawa


The sound of deep-frying on the stovetop fills the house as my mom prepares her authentic andagi, our family’s favorite snack. Andagi is basically an Okinawan donut: flour, sugar, and eggs. They’re deep-fried to a golden crisp and doughy on the inside with just the right amount of sweetness—not too much, not too little, just perfect.

My childhood is full of fond memories of my mom standing by the stove making andagi, or as my family called them, sata tempura. I knew even then as a child that it made her happy to see me and my twin brother eat them all with such glee.

My mom and I, circa 1980s.

Nowadays, I encounter andagi more and more at obon festivals and restaurants. It’s also a nice feeling when I come across them in unexpected places—a reminder of my childhood and a transcendent connection to my heritage. I hope to continue my family’s culinary tradition by making these treats for my own family and passing on my mother’s recipes.

* * * * *

“What? Some of the words and phrases I hear my parents say aren’t Japanese?”

Not only does Okinawa have distinct traditional food items, Okinawa has a language separate from Japanese.

I was either in first or second grade when I realized that my parents spoke Japanese with some Okinawa hogen or Uchinaaguchi mixed in. Perhaps I am biased…OK, I am…but Uchinaaguchi has always sounded really cool to me, cooler than Japanese. Here are some words I recall hearing at home:

Ayena! = Oh my God!

Akisamyo! = I think this is another way to say, “Oh my God!” or “Geez Louise!”

Agaa! = Ouch!

Mayagwa = Cat

Maasan = Delicious

Niibuya = Sleepy head (What my dad called my brother)

Deiji = A lot or very

Furaagwa = Crazy person (My dad used this word often)

Ashitibichi = Pig’s feet soup (Don’t knock it until you try it!)

* * * * *

My parents emigrated from Okinawa to Los Angeles in the ’70s. I believe they had just one or two friends here when they started their new lives in a tiny apartment in what is now Koreatown. Over time, while working hard (at times working 2 or 3 jobs) and raising two kids, they assimilated into American life.

Many of my fondest memories are those times my parents spent with their fellow Okinawan friends, some from the Okinawa Kenjinkai (prefectural group) in Los Angeles. I delighted in seeing the adults speaking in hogen, laughing boisterously, drinking beer, eating traditional Okinawan dishes, and witnessing the special kinship they clearly shared. They may have left Okinawa but they sure brought her with them to Los Angeles.

Eating an andagi at one of the obon festivals.

As a Nisei, all grown up and having long moved out of my parents’ house, I am grateful beyond words that I was raised in a household with Japanese, Okinawan, and American cultures fused together. It’s a blend I hope to impart to my own family in the future. I am proud of my Okinawan heritage. The food, music, and language are beautiful and uniquely Okinawan. I want to keep them all alive as much as I can. I am hopeful and determined to pass on the traditions to my future children and they can do the same for their children. I want to pass the torch to future generations.

Here’s another thing I’d like to pass on…my mother’s recipe for andagi:


Recipe for Andagi (Okinawan Donuts)

Delicious andagi made by my mom.

Oil for deep-frying

A (Dry ingredients)

2 cups flour

½ cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

B (Wet ingredients)

2 eggs

1 tsp oil

¼ cup milk



  1. Add oil to wok, large saucepan, or deep fryer; amount of oil should be 3"–4" high; heat oil to 330°F–350°F

  2. Mix ingredients for A

  3. Mix ingredients for B

  4. Combine A and B

  5. Drop spoonful of dough into the hot oil and deep-fry until they are crisp, golden brown, and rise to the surface OR you can do it the old-fashioned way (and my mother’s way) and simply scoop up the dough with your hand, lift and turn palm downwards, and squeeze a ball of dough into the hot oil.

  6. Transfer the andagi to a tray or plate lined with paper towels; allow to rest for a couple of minutes

  7. Enjoy!


© 2015 Japanese American National Museum

19 Stars

Nima-kai Favorites

Each article submitted to this series was eligible for selection as favorites of our readers and the Editorial Committees. Thank you to everyone who voted!

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About this series

Nikkei family roles and traditions are unique because they have evolved over many generations, based on various social, political, and cultural experiences in the country they migrated to.

Discover Nikkei collected stories from around the world related to the topic of Nikkei Family, including the stories that tell how your family has influenced who you are, and allow us to understand your perspectives on what family is. This series introduces these stories.

For this series, we asked our Nima-kai to vote for their favorite stories and our editorial committee to pick their favorites.

Here are the selected favorite stories.

  Editorial Committee’s Selections:

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series:

#1: ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture
#2: Nikkei+ ~ Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race ~
#3: Nikkei Names: Taro, John, Juan, João? 
#5: Nikkei-go: The Language of Family, Community, and Culture 
#6: Itadakimasu 2!: Another Taste of Nikkei Culture
#7: Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage