Konnyaku – A Superfood To Be Proud Of!
Written by Eleonora Badellino
Konnyaku. Its appearance may not be inviting to some, and it may not be in your “To taste” list, but, arrived here in Japan, be sure that in some dish, you will find it!
At first look, many people mistake it for a “fish cake” or an ingredient derived from rice. The first time I saw it, I remember thinking of some sweet jelly, but, once tasted, I definitely understood that I was completely wrong.
Konnyaku is considered a Super Food in the cuisine of the Rising Sun and asking around, I can say that the Japanese are particularly proud of it.
Is an ingredient obtained from a particular type of tuber called “Konnyaku Yam”. Finely cut and mash to form a dough, it is mixed with water and boiled until reach a jelly texture. It can be found in different shapes. Rectangular, round, square or cut into thin strips to form Noodles (in this case is called Shirataki) ideal as gluten-free substitutes of the famous starchy dough, that not everyone can eat.
The result is a thick and resistant white jelly, that is usually colored by adding some cut seaweed.
One of the reasons why this ingredient is very popular? I will neither tell you 2. It is very convenient (a large rectangular cube big as your hand costs about 80 yen) and is without Calories. Yes, it is not only perfect for those who want to pay attention to the diet but, being rich in fiber, will easily fill your stomach!
Konnyaku Yam – A production that requires years of work
The most famous area in Japan for the production of this tuber is Gunma Prefecture, about 2 hours by car from Tokyo.
Ideal environment in which the tubers grow? The mountain, where the air is fresh, clean and where there is a favorable thermal shock between day and night. The plants grow during the spring month and can even reach one meter in height. From here begins their development that can last up two years. 2 years where, before the arrival of freezing winter, the small tubers are collected, placed in rooms heated at a constant temperature (often in the attics of country houses) and then buried in the soil so that they continue their growth. A job that requires hard work and a lot of patience.
Where and how to taste the Konnyaku
It is an ingredient available all year round, but its consumption is concentrated mainly during the winter. It is in fact served in different broths along with other ingredients or in large nabe ready to be eaten with family and friends!
The most famous dish where Konnyaku is one of the main ingredients is undoubtedly the Oden. It is a hot dashi broth in which various ingredients are left in immersion including eggs, tofu, daikon, fish cake, sausages and, last but not least, our Konnyaku!
Where can you buy the Oden? Being a very popular dish, as well as in traditional restaurants, it can also be found in some supermarkets and, in the conbini (you will find it close to the cash desk).
Many traditional Oden restaurants reinvigorate the same broth that their ancestors used every day!
But in what other dishes will you can eat Konnyaku?
Is often finely chopped together with other vegetables in a bowl of colored rice that is often served as an accompaniment to your meal.
Skewered in skewers, covered with a delicious and creamy sweet miso result of a mix with soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar (very easy to prepare at home).
Immersed in a nabe (hot pot) in its characteristic shThinof Shirataki (This Noodles) that gives to the dish that extra consistency that satisfies and fills your the stomach.
Konnyaku Yam in modern Tokyo
Like all traditions, unfortunately, with the passage of time, even Konnyaku is losing its popularity among young people.
But as after every crisis, there is always an opportunity, in Tokyo are emerging several restaurants and bars that offer this ingredient, revisited in a modern way.
Such as the AFURI, Ramen restaurant in Shibuya, where you can choose the Ramen Gluten Free which Noodles are prepared with a mixture of Konnyaku flavored with Dashi Broth (is also one of the best ramen place in Tokyo!).
Or burgers that serve konnyaku instead of meat like AIN SOPH in Shinjuku, one of the best spots for vegetarians and vegans!
Then there are several popular “snacks” that see it introduced among the ingredients. Like the famous パ ン – pan (sweet bread) in which it is used instead of eggs, or fruit jellies and different smoothies.
Insomma, we just have to choose a recipe and eat in abundance, this time, without too much guilt!
Ele & Yo
About the author: Ele is a University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo alumna who returned to UNISG, after working in America and Asia, to work as part of a team on the Academic Tables project. Faith and love brought her back to Japan, where she's now living and studying about its incredible culture. Her biggest passions are people, food, and travel. She enjoys sharing her experiences with others who share her curiosity.