Archive for the ‘食べ物・食品(food)’ Category

Seven Grass Porridge

2013年 1月 7日

Today is the Seventh of January which is the traditional day to eat nanakusagayu (七種粥・七草粥). Seven Spring greens are gathered and cooked into a rice porridge. Traditionally these greens are:

  1. seri (芹・セリ) – Japanese parsley, dropwort
  2. nazuna (薺・ナズナ) – Shepherd’s purse
  3. gogyo (御形・五形・ゴギョウ), also called hahakogusa (ハハコグサ)
  4. hakobera (繁縷・ハコベラ) or hakobe (ハコベ) – Chickweed
  5. hotokenoza (仏の座・ホトケノザ) – from the Chrysanthemum family
  6. suzuna (菘・スズナ) – Turnip greens
  7. suzushiro (蘿蔔・清白・スズシロ) – Japanese radish greens

As I wrote last year, the flavor is very grassy and not so popular with children. I think this is one tradition that is slowly vanishing. Even my wife, who had to maintain these traditions for the children under her care, has forgotten it this year.

Perhaps we really need to find ourselves a plot of land to grow things. Had I been preparing these in the garden and talking about them, surely it would be on her mind.

Sweet Goya

2012年 9月 8日

Sweet GoyaGoya grow on climbing vines from just behind the flowers, much like a cucumber; however, they have a bumpy flesh that is generally known for it’s bitterness. Often prepared with scrambled egg, onions, and pork in Okinawan cooking, it is liked and hated by roughly equal numbers of people. In our hot climate, it has been trendy to grow “green curtains” of these vines outside windows in an attempt to stay cool. We opted to follow the trend this summer and have been treated to shade, good food, and learning for our efforts.

Sweet Goya seedsOne interesting point of learning is that, the bitter green goya are actually less than fully ripe. Allowing them to ripen past the normal harvest time, sees them change to yellow or bright orange coloring. Additionally, the bitterness is greatly tempered; in some cases, even resulting in a bit of sweetness. Harvesting this late can be a bit tricky in that the goya will start to rot on the vine and bugs or birds may take an interest in dining before the farmer.

Sweet Goya seedGreen goya seeds are normally carved from the inside and thrown out; although some will tempura fry them. In the case of a fully ripened goya, the seeds become harder but the flesh around them turns sweet and red – almost like jam.

Full of Tradition

2012年 1月 7日

Japan is a country full of tradition. After living here almost eight years and seeking out culture and tradition, I am still constantly amazed by serendipitous appearances of more traditional activity. Tradition being over-abundant has its downside: in our ever-busier lives, the tedium of preparing for, executing and passing on tradition is causing many to disappear or become only shadowy forms of what they were.

Perhaps this is just one more reason that my wife was delivered into my life. Working in a home for children removed from abusive or neglectful situations, she was charged with providing them plentiful access to tradition. I sometimes tease her about not respecting various traditional arts; however, she has a much deeper knowledge than me. For that matter, I would guess it is much deeper than the average citizen; and it often just comes out naturally, as a matter of practice.

January Seventh is one of five important seasonal festival days called Nanakusa (七種、ななくさ). It is a time to celebrate the passing from winter into spring. Tradition is to make a rice porridge with seven types of young greens in it. There is definitely a strong grassy flavor to it, so I would probably not choose it everyday; however, it was an enjoyable way to celebrate the coming fruitfulness.

When she made this for the children at the home, the flavor was not invited by the young ones: definitely a taste for a mature palate. I imagine this is one reason the tradition is not broadly practiced. Also, most housewives are extremely busy the last week of December and the first few days of the new year taking care of other traditions, so they probably aren’t anxious to put effort into another special day.

Supermarkets sell small kits with the seven essentials in them, so it still carries at least enough popularity to support that business. Finding the greens – especially in the small portions needed – would be a chore without these packages, so they are definitely a nice aide.

Rumors not Exaggerated

2011年 12月 22日

Just like Jon Bon Jovi, I am alive and well. Unlike him, nobody has rumored my death (that I am aware of), regardless of my failure to post much. Recently some ongoing troubles have been destroying my motivation and, for the combination punch, I have been extremely busy. Fortunately this means lots of fun bits to write about; however, it leaves me unable to post.

Winter Solstice occurs tonight and, as usual, I will participate in one of the cutest Japanese traditions I have learned. Eating kabocha (カボチャ・南瓜) – a kind of squash – and soaking in yuzuyu (柚子湯) – a hot bath with fresh citron in it, is said to guarantee one good health during the winter. Perhaps the cutest aspect of this tradition is when a foreigner asks why these items have some special connection to disease prevention, the response is often that they are yellow.

Often in Japanese there is some homophonic meaning behind traditions like this, so one might expect yellow to have another meaning… but it does not. Also, in my Bart Simpson like mind, this always begs the question, “Can I eat something else yellow instead?” This is met with uncomfortable consternation, like so many of my jokes.

Regardless of the ambiguous origin of this tradition, I enjoy getting some tasty and healthy squash in my belly and I really enjoy fresh fruit fragrance while soaking in my 42 degree tub.

Sunday Soundcheck 71

2011年 10月 23日

We’ve reached the last column of the syllabary, but not nearly the end of the Sunday Soundcheck. I’ll explain why after this column is completed, which won’t take so long since there are only three characters in this column. My feeling is that these three are the oddballs tacked on at the end, but all three of them are very important.

The first is wa which is written in hiragana and katakana as わ and ワ respectively. It is the only character starting with w, so most Japanese people have difficulty with foreign words containing w sounds.

Warikan (わりかん・割り勘) is splitting of a bill equally between parties, commonly called Dutch treat in some circles. Often at Japanese parties a senior member will feel responsible to pick up the bill as the host, but sometimes it is necessary for everyone to chip in. Nowadays most restaurants are computerized and will allow each person to pay for exactly their order at the register, but when many dishes are shared the warikan system is probably better.

Wanman (ワンマン) from ‘one man’ is used to refer to trains with no conductor, just an engineer. In the big cities this is nothing special; people may get on or off the train by themselves and tickets are generally sold from machines and inserted into automated wickets at the exits. Fare adjustment machines also exist for passengers who have gone farther than their purchased fare. Also in the big stations there are usually staff manning the entrances and exits; however, in more countryside areas – particularly on the local trains which stop at every station – there are sometimes unmanned exits. In these cases the engineer-only trains will typically only open the front door of the train so the engineer can watch passengers dropping their tickets or fares into a kitty, much like a bus.

Silly Boys

2011年 10月 4日

My Tuesday school is a special place. Everyday there are special things happening here. Sometimes when I say special, I mean the difficult and frustrating variety; however, even in those cases amusing things float to the surface.

Just after fourth period began, one of the administrators stood up in the office and looked across the playground exclaiming, “What’s that?” They asked, “Is there a student out there?”

A small child was crouched down in the grass by the sandpile brought in to level the playing field for sports day. We identified the student and she hollered out at him to no avail. As she headed out for a direct interaction, we observed the activity from inside.

He seemed like a kitten prowling around, crouching, pouncing and suddenly – as if to sell this image further – a second playmate came flying in from a distance, nearly running headlong into his friend. The two boys continued scampering around after a grasshopper, including leaping vainly up a wall far higher than their heads. Eventually their awareness that they were being approached came to them and they ran off behind the storage shed.

Once they were corralled, scolded and back in class, I aksed what they were doing. My co-worker uses a very hard to follow dialectical pattern of speaking, but I think I caught the message.

Apparently during third period they were learning about how people used to catch grasshoppers and eat them for their nutritional value, so they set about catching one… Not sure if they planned to eat it or not…

Returning to the Scene

2011年 5月 17日

BouquetsMy wife and I were married on May 15th, 2010 or possibly May 16th. It’s been a whole year, so it’s to be expected that some details are vague.

Our relatives were invited to a dinner party on the 15th, which was a Saturday. After the party ended, we drove to city hall at night and filed our paperwork. Official records will show our marriage occurring on that date. At mid-day on Sunday the 16th we had a wedding ceremony and party, so we think of that date as our wedding.

We held the ceremony in Kameyama at a restaurant called Tsuki no Niwa (The Garden of the Moon), outside under the trees. We stood with our two officiants in a gazebo with our guests seated in front.

Both of us were hoping to eat there soon, so we decided it would be perfect to spend our first anniversary there remembering the day’s events. Kaori, the owner, is a friend of ours and she came out to chat with us. She arranged a special table in the gazebo where, the same as last year, the weather was gorgeous.

AppetizersWe started dining around 1 :30pm, with Appletiser instead of champagne. My wife was driving and I didn’t have much interest in drinking champagne without her. We toasted our first year and our hopes for our second.

Our entire meal was organic vegetarian. Typically, I love fish and meats, but eat more vegetables and fruits; however, the vegetarian creations at Tsuki no Niwa are always very satisfying. Balance of colors, textures, flavors, and health are all well attended to in their preparations. Our first plate had four small dishes, one being tofu with egoma, which many people mistake for a kind of sesame, based on the name; yet, it is really a seed from the shiso plant.

Eri ChiliEbi Chili is a popular dish in Japan made with shrimp. The owner created a dish called Eri Chili, with similar spice and sauce, but replaced the shrimp with eringe mushrooms. We were delighted with this one. Spring RollsSpring rolls and shumai dishes were also served. A very satisfying blend of flavors.

ShumaiDuring the meal, Shunsuke – who was the manager of the restaurant during the wedding – dropped in to talk and brought a bouquet of flowers for each of us. It was very touching. He has since moved on to taking care of other projects, such as a monthly organic market in Seki, so we felt honored that he would make the time for us.

Rice and Mabo TofuOur final dishes were whole rice with pickled radish and plum; and, mabo tofu. Mabo is often made with ground meat, but ours had a dark millet instead, which gave an amusing texture.

Planning everything for our wedding was a little hectic to say the least, and we missed a few details. Perhaps the largest gaffe was when we realized a couple weeks before the wedding, that we had no cake. An executive decision was made to do without, saddened by our parting from Western tradition. During the wedding reception, once guests had eaten a fair quantity of food, Shunsuke got ahold of me and wanted me to corral my wife and get to our table.

Tofu Cream CakeAi-chan then carried a cake to our table and presented it to us. Were I not an emotionally restrained American, I would have been bawling, but I managed to smile a lot with glistening eyes. Since we were going to Tsuki no Niwa for the anniversary, I requested that we have the same cake again. She produced a lovely, smaller version, for us. Large enough to share with the staff and still have leftovers for the next day.

Tofu Cream CakeHearing “tofu cream cake” for the first time, I can tell you, I was a little suspicious; however, it was incredibly good – as you may have guessed by my insistence on ordering it for the anniversary meal.

With all our chatting and listening to the birds in the trees, it was 6pm by the time we finished lunch and were on our way. I really love Kaori and her restaurant and I hope to visit again soon.

Learning Without Study

2011年 5月 9日

For the past couple years a few conditions have interfered with my ability to freely set my schedule: some good; some bad. The first thing cut from my schedule (after shaving, of course) to make time, is my Japanese study. So, imagine my surprise recently when I pulled out a set of over a thousand kanji cards and – starting from the difficult end of the stack – found I knew most of the characters.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I cut my formal Japanese study from my schedule. Without awareness, I spend a fair amount of time studying everyday. For example, when I hear words I know I have studied before but can’t recall the meaning, I pull them up in my electronic dictionary and mull them over: often searching through other uses of the same word. Also, many readers know I was married 11 and 3/4 months ago, to a wonderful Japanese woman. Although my wife speaks a fair amount of English, she rarely does so with me. At least 99% of our communication has been in Japanese. Sharing your life with someone means you need to be able to express nuance. Just spending time with my wife has increased my speaking speed and proficiency, polished my expressiveness, and increased vocabulary for loving (and fighting).

Further, my wife’s main hobby is cooking, so I am learning how to express culinary terms in Japanese.

Hopefully, I will get back into my study groove, but rest assured – learning never stops.

Rescuing Halloween

2010年 11月 2日

Troubled by loads of paperwork for a not-so-beloved government agency, I have been forgoing most of my social activities recently. Last weekend was no exception. Even though there were some fun parties going on I stayed home; although, I wasn’t so productive, but that’s another issue.

As I was sitting home and reading people’s updates on the internet, I was reminder of something good in the past which was lost. When I was a little tot, we received homemade Halloween treats from some of our neighbors; however, I was still quite young when the fear spread. Announcements were made at school about how people could put dangerous things in homemade goods. Strong recommendations against accepting them were sent out. Over a very short period, they had vanished.

Sometimes I wonder if this rumor mill was stirred up by candy manufacturers. Regardless, what we get now are just the manufactured items.

Here in Japan, knowledge of Halloween is getting around and occasionally there are parties; particularly, around English schools. Trick or Treating is still non-existant because you need widespread participation for it to catch on. Nobody is going out trick or treating if one in twenty houses will have something for them.

Ruminating during my seclusion, I think I hatched a plan to rescue homemade treats and create trick or treating in Japan (if only in a small area).

  • Step 1: get to know the neighbors – Not just the people next door, or the ones who put out their trash around the same time. Actually meet and greet everyone in the neighborhood as much as possible. Seek opportunities to talk to them. (Honestly, step one is fairly well along anyhow – due to my gregarious nature.)
  • Step 2: rally support for doing trick or treating – Starting with the families with children because they always want to learn more about international customs and they have the most to gain from participation. After that, working on the sentiments of neighbors who love to cook; especially, the ones who might enjoy a chance to learn about making something traditional from America. Finally, catching the others in a web of “everyone else is doing it”, which carries far more weight here than back home.
  • Step 3: teach, teach, teach – help everyone learn about making traditional goodies, costumes, and decorations.
  • Step 4: enjoy the fun – and follow up with encouragement the next year and the next.

Can I succeed? I have no idea. Perhaps soon we can be enjoying carameled apples, salt-water taffy, popcorn balls, spiced pumpkin bread, and so on.

Five People, Five O’Clock

2010年 9月 30日

Tsuitachi mochi (朔日餅) and Tsuitachi gayu (朔日粥) are, respectively, special rice desserts and special porridge breakfast which are only sold in the morning on the first of the month. Ingredients change each month as does popularity. July and October are known to be in demand. Tomorrow’s mochi dessert includes chestnuts (栗) which are considered a symbol for October in our textbooks.

Readers may recall that I picked up this practice as a way to enjoy my new life in Ise. Before moving here, I enjoyed the porridge with my wife, who ultimately was my reason for moving. That was back on November first, 2008. Generally my wife can’t join me because she is working; whereas, I can finish in time to ride the train to work. My first solo venture was June first, 2009. I also went in July and August; however, riding home from the last one I was struck by a driver. Resting up from my injuries (and a little fear of riding my bike on what I formerly considered a safe street) I missed several times. February this year marked my return since I could drive safely in my new car and picked up an interested friend to pass the time better.

Tomorrow will be a special trip, my wife is off work, her friend is visiting from Kyoto, my regular friend is up to the task, and a new teacher wants to ride along. We are expecting to be a party of five. Hopefully, heading out at five in the morning will give us enough time to buy mochi and sit down for a nice meal with porridge.