NOURISHING ESSENTIALS (March 2021) - Bento (お弁当) : More Than a Just Lunch Box
Calledpukasa by the native Ainu, Siberian onion (Allium ochotense) is a highly sought after spring delicacy in Japan. Most Ainu live on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, with a diet that includes salmon and deer, as well as wild plants and herbs. For a few short weeks after the winter snow melts, early spring brings the best season for pickingsansai (wild mountain plants). Among them, the Siberian onion, which is similar to ramps, is prized for its distinct pungent flavor, somewhere between garlic and mild sweet onions.
Kai Foods harvests their seasonal produce from the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture. Their motto is to create products which appeal to modern tastes yet preserve traditional Japanese flavors. They rely on natural methods developed generations ago when chemical additives, preservatives, and colorings did not exist, and focus on classic Japanese ingredients such as miso, soy sauce, mirin, bonito and kelp.
Ingredients:Gyōja ninniku (Siberian onion (Allium ochotense) from Japan), soy sauce, sugar, mirin, brewed vinegar, yeast extract, dried bonito extract, kelp extract (incl. wheat and soybeans)
Suggested uses:Enjoy as is as a side in your bento. Can also be added to pizza, on cheese toast or in omelettes, quiche or scrambled eggs.
TSUKUDANI (NORI PASTE)
For more than 60 years, Isoya’s livelihood has been focused around their nori products, including thisnori (seaweed) paste. Also known astsukudani, nori paste is a commonly used condiment in Japan. Toasted nori sheets are pickled then simmered into a paste that has a balanced sweet, salty, and umami flavor. It’s versatility makes it a great topping for many bento items.
Ingredients:Soy-sauce (incl. wheat and soy, non GMO), sugar, dried seaweed, syrup, salt, fermented seasonings, shavings of dried bonito, shrimp, bonito dashi, sake
Suggested uses:Add on top of rice, as a spread for crackers or toast, a topping for fish or chicken, or mixed with diced avocados or hard boiled eggs.
TONTON-BYOSHI PORK DONBURI SAUCE
Producer:Yoshida Furusato Village
Rice bowls, known asdonburi(from the word “don” which refers to the large bowl the dish is served in), are the ultimate comfort food in Japan. Seasonal vegetables and protein are covered in a sweet yet savory sauce and served atop a bowl of hot steamy rice. The sauce is a balance of all five tastes: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, and is achieved by carefully mixing together key ingredients from Japanese cuisine such as soy sauce, sugar, kelp, bonito flakes, and fermented seasonings. The name comes from the sound “tonton” andbyoshi (beat) - it means everything will go smoothly.
Yoshida Furusato Village is rooted in Yoshida Town in Shimane Prefecture, a mountainous, sparsely populated coastal area located on Japan's Honshu Island. Yoshida Town once flourished as the center of Japanese steel production, but lost most of its population with the introduction of modern steelmaking technology. Governments, enterprises and local citizens (the youngest being 24 years old to the eldest who was 85 years old), funded Yoshida Furusato Village to help reinvigorate the largely abandoned town through their production of organic, locally grown produce.
Ingredients:Fermented seasonings (rice, rice koji, salt), soy sauce (soybeans, wheat, salt), seasonings (bonito flakes, kelp), sugar (sugar beet), salt
Suggested uses:Use to stir fry meat, vegetables, or fish, or add to broth to make boiled vegetable dishes. To make a simple porkdonburi (rice bowl), stir fry thin slices of pork with onions, seasonal vegetables and 50ml of Tonton-byoshi Pork Donburi Sauce mixed with 30ml of water, and serve atop a bowl of rice. Can also be used in theTakikomi Gohan (Seasoned Rice) andSweet and Savory Meat Tofu recipes provided. Be sure to make extra to enjoy in your bento the next day!
MOCHI MOCHI BROWN RICE WITH KOJI
Producer:Kikkoman Cocoro Dining
Japan is known for its creation of words that evoke the sound of the thing they’re describing. One such onomatopoeia is “mochi mochi” which refers to the sticky chewiness of glutinous rice known as mochi. This particular mochi mochi rice uses a variety of rice called kin-no-ibuki. The germ of this brown rice is three times larger than normal brown rice, giving it a more noticeable chewy texture that is similar to white rice. The power of fermentation also lends to a softer texture, making this the perfect base for any bento.
Ingredients:Brown rice (from Japan), rice cake, black rice (from Japan), salt koji, lactic acid bacteria powder (sterilized)
Suggested uses:Microwave for 2 mins at 500W or 1min and 40 sec at 600W and use as a base for your bento creation.
HEALTHY DASHI FURIKAKE
Petit Veil is a new vegetable that was developed in the 90’s in Shizuoka Prefecture. Its French name translates to “small green” and is a combination of kale and brussel sprouts. Unlike a brussel sprout, the leaves do not curl into a ball but instead open with soft frilly edges like a rose. While green leafy vegetables are often quite bitter, petit veil has a high natural sugar content, nearly as much as a strawberry, giving it a soft, almost fruity sweetness.
Mica Corporation combines petit veil with their signature dashi to make this uniquefurikake - an umami-rich Japanese seasoning that can be found in an endless variety of flavors in Japan. For over 70 years, Mica Corporation has been making dashi using sardines harvested from Tsuruga Bay. With a refined and gentle taste, their dashi honors the hundreds of years of history dashi has had in Japanese cuisine.
Ingredients:Petit veil, dried sardine shavings, tororo kelp, shiitake mushrooms, miso (soybean, salt, rice)
Suggested uses:Sprinkle on rice, pasta, vegetables, tofu or fish, or to add a dash of umami to your bento. Can also be used as a salt substitute.
MACKEREL SIMMERED IN SOY SAUCE
Along the Sanriku coast, a beautiful rocky shoreline with steep bays and cliffs that extend from southern Aomori Prefecture, through Iwate Prefecture, up to northern Miyagi Prefecture, you’ll find the small fishing town of Onagawa and some of Japan’s freshest Pacific saury or mackerel pike, known as sanma. The kanji used for the fish translates to “autumn knife fish” based on its peak season and knife-like shape. It’s commonly salted and grilled whole, topped with grated daikon and served alongside a bowl of rice and miso soup.
Thanks to Senrei’s Sanriku Saury, you can now enjoy the tastes of Japan’s Pacific Ocean year round. Fresh saury brought into the port at Sanriku Onagawa, one of the world’s three largest fishing grounds, are processed the same day to preserve their quality and freshness. The fish are then gently simmered with traditional Japanese seasonings and fresh ginger to create a balanced yet distinct flavor. The whole fish is used, including the bones, which are soft, highly nutritious and packed with calcium.
Ingredients:Mackerel fish (from Miyagi Prefecture), sugar, soy sauce (incl. soy and wheat), mirin, sake, bonito dashi, agar
Suggested uses:Enjoy as is or warm in the microwave for 30 seconds (500W) by peeling the lid back to the dotted line. Can also be added to pasta, salads, sandwiches, on top of rice or as a main in your bento.