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Sabbath at the Spectrum Café: International Night


If Adventists had an app for rating church potlucks, the Mountain View Japanese Seventh-day Adventist Church might have the best local reviews.

I recently moved to California’s Bay Area, where advice abounds for newcomers. Bring a coat—everywhere. Don’t drive; take public transit. Learn the basics of computer programming. But, the tip that I heard most was, “Go to the Mountain View Japanese Seventh-day Adventist Church—they have the best potlucks.”

Almost every local Adventist repeated this, whether or not they belonged to the church. The near-verbatim suggestion seemed a bit suspicious, like too-similar stories told by court witnesses. Still, curiosity (and an empty refrigerator) led me say “Yes,” when a friend invited me to the church’s International Night, on a cold Saturday evening.

My friend’s email advertised a parade of flags, choirs and more vegetarian versions of ethnic foods—spam musubi, lumpia—than I knew the definitions for. Ticket sales funded evangelism projects; we were eating for a worthy cause. No, it wasn’t potluck, but it took place on the same day in the same hall, with a similar crowd of cooks and empty stomachs. Close enough.

When I arrived, the church hall was filled with homemade butcher-paper signs, people circling the booths like a school of fish and kids who bounced from wall to wall like popcorn. It felt like every fall festival or Pathfinder event, except that I didn’t have to raise funds for a band trip, or emerge, “fry smell” first, from a kitchen that smelled of corn dogs.

Instead, my meal began at the yudofu booth. Growing up as a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian daughter in a vegetarian family, I assumed I’d tried tofu in every possible way. I’d missed tasting yudofu, tofu simmered in a lightly flavored broth with simple condiments, including scallions and Ponzu sauce (a tart Japanese citrus vinaigrette).

I dropped two tickets into the ticket box while a man wearing a traditional dark gray kimono (Japanese traditional dress) plucked two thick slices of tofu from a large, steaming vat, then placed them in a small bowl. Nearby, the sleeves of his wife’s bright, flowery kimono fluttered, as she lifted a small blue-and-white vessel and delicately tipped a few drops of its dark contents into the bowl. She swirled it around, momentarily marbling the clear broth with the sauce’s density. A thin slice of carrot swam in the mixture, and I saw it surface like a koi fish when she handed the bowl to me, saying, “Doozo,” the Japanese equivalent of “Bon appétit.”

I balanced the yudofu and pieces of fresh mochi (chewy, sweet cakes made of sticky rice) as I headed toward an open seat at a crowded table across the room. Suddenly, I felt as lonely as a single chopstick. Worse, I was sitting in someone else’s chair, which dawned on me when she—a petite, kind-eyed Japanese woman—returned to check on her baby and husband nearby.

It was the wrong seat rightly picked. We began talking as I bundled up my leftovers, apologizing my way out of her space. She was a relatively new Adventist, born in Japan (“I’m still such a rice girl,” she quipped), the quiet, agreeable younger sister who surprised everyone with her determination to visit, study, then live on her own in America, far from family. When a seat opened up next to her, I sat back down, while she continued her story and bowl of miso soup.

She listened as I talked about my new job at a university, expensive adventures in San Francisco parking, all the who-what-when-where-why topics that are the luxury of new acquaintances. Volunteers at the food booths were slashing their prices for the final time and our soup bowls were nearly dry by the time that I again arose to leave. As we said goodbye, she told me to attend the church’s potluck the following weekend—an invitation, instead of just a suggestion.

Declaring that one church has the crème de la crème of potlucks—or food events—seems undiplomatic.* I won’t risk offending the local Adventist cooks by awarding superlatives. But, raised as a third-generation Adventist whose grandfather helped invent Fri-Chik, I’d give the Mountain View Japanese Seventh-day Adventist Church—its food and community members—a five-star review.

*I’ve since returned to the church for potluck. It’s exactly as good as advertised.

Midori Yoshimura is an editorial assistant in Stanford University’s News Service. In addition to enrolling in online courses (MOOCs), she enjoys exploring cafes, hiking trails and museums.

Photo credit:


This recipe for Yudofu is one of many variations suggested by Jane Sato, a Mountain View Japanese Seventh-day Adventist Church member. A Japanese hot pot dish, yudofu is a traditional winter staple. To add bulk to the broth, add vegetables such as napa cabbage and mushrooms. Kombu, ponzu sauce and shichimi togarashi can be purchased at specialty grocery stores and most Asian markets.


Total time: 20 min.
Serves: 4-5

2 blocks firm or regular organic tofu
6-inch strip of kombu (kelp)
Napa cabbage or other greens, as desired, optional
Mushrooms (maitake, shiitake or oysters, or a combination), optional
Ponzu sauce (a tart Japanese citrus vinaigrette)

Finely chopped scallion
Grated ginger, optional
Shichimi togarashi (spicy Japanese chili pepper), optional


1.     Clean the kombu with a towel. Put the kombu in a small pot or hot pot and fill it about 3/4 full of water. Place over low heat.

2.     Add the tofu, and greens and mushrooms if using, to the pot and simmer until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

3.     Ladle the broth and slices of tofu into bowls. Pour the ponzu sauce over the tofu and add toppings as desired.

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