As I pedaled my bike home from Apple Land, I thought about my cache of groceries. An enormous Fuji apple, a half-loaf of square, fluffy super-white Japanese bread, a Kewpie doll full of mayonnaise, frozen potato patties, a small bottle of vegetable oil, a quart of liquid yogurt, some Napa cabbage, a small can of mandarin oranges, and other sundries. The plastic bag swung back and forth from my handlebar as I made my way up the hill to my small flat. I parked my bike and carried my groceries inside. Placing a pan on the stove, I poured in some oil and removed the potato patties from their packaging. After heating up the oil, I carefully placed the patties in it. I was so excited to eat my potato patties. In Japan, they eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As an American, I missed my potatoes.
I tended the patties on the stove, bathing them in loving thoughts. But then the patties began breaking apart, like reluctantly separating continents, with pieces too small to salvage becoming buried in the depths of the oil. Something was very wrong. Ice crystals on the patties, which should have exploded and evaporated with shocking, violent pops, silently melted into the oil. Where was the sizzle? Where was the drama? The oil itself taunted me with its lethargy. Small bubbles sluggishly made their way to the top, like the oil was too bored to even try. “You’ve been here for two months and all you give me are potato patties? You’re not in Idaho anymore! You useless gaijin! What about some tonkatsu? Oh yes, a crunchy, breaded, fried pork cutlet would be just the thing. That, I would be happy to fry. But you offer me something as prosaic as potatoes? You insult me with your heavy, starchy American food! Out! Take it out, I say!”
I ventured a taste of a disintegrated patty. It was sweet! I was baffled. I discarded the whole bunch, and tried again. Was the oil too hot? Not hot enough? Was there something wrong with the patties? Why were they sweet? I watched the second batch of patties, my mind desperately searching for answers. Yes, I was an American in Japan. I loved potatoes. Potatoes were precious to me. It was painful to throw out the first batch of patties—like parting with a friend you don’t know if you’ll ever see again. The second batch of patties languished in the oil. Hotter now, the oil started turning brown and bubbling more fervently. If I let it cool, it looked like it would turn into the rosin I used for the bow of my cello. I flipped the floppy patties. Why were they not becoming crispy and delicious? Was I to lose another batch? I ventured a taste. Sweet again.
High school chemistry, don’t fail me now, I thought to myself. Could the starches in the potatoes be transforming into sugar? Had some chemical process hijacked my potato patties? No, that couldn’t be it. Could it? What other explanation could there be? I was flummoxed. Bewildered. Baffled. The oil darkened until it looked like thick maple syrup.
Suddenly, the full weight of my blondeness came crashing down upon me. In an instant, my disjointed brain cells converged and clarity exploded upon the scene. I was not frying the potato patties in oil. I was frying them in corn syrup.
Did you know that if you can’t read Japanese, corn syrup and oil look EXACTLY the same? Oh, the embarrassment! How had it taken me so long to figure this out? Was I really this dumb? I was ashamed of myself. My age, my experience, my college degree—where had these helpers been in my time of need? I was utterly abandoned by sense, and I felt its loss keenly. Almost as much as I felt the loss of my beloved potato patties.
I learned something very important that day. Potatoes and corn syrup do not go together.
The moral of the story is this: very few items actually need corn syrup, which is widely known as the Devil’s Elixir of Death. Oh, you didn’t know it was called that? Did you go to college? Do you have blonde hair? Can you read Japanese? Nevermind. Just don’t ever put it in your ice cream, and never buy ice cream that contains corn syrup. And whatever you do, never, ever put it in your potatoes.