NOURISHING ESSENTIALS (May 2020) - Obaachan's Kitchen: Grandma's Japanese Comfort Foods

里ごぼう つけもの)

Almost every Japanese home cooked meal is served with a side of pickled vegetables, known as tsukemono. Older generations made tsukemono as a way of preserving food and traditionally ate it on top of rice. Each region has its own flavors based on the local seasonal vegetables.

Odawaraya, our local producer, has been pickling seasonal Japanese vegetables for over 80 years. Every year they hold a two-day festival which draws over 3,000 customers to their production facilities, providing the opportunity for people to visit and personally meet the employees and individuals who make these special pickles. Here Odawaraya has taken burdock, a Japanese root vegetable known as gobou, which was traditionally used to purify blood and improve digestive and skin issues, and pickled it in their own sweet and sour pickling juice. Once you’ve enjoyed the crunchy burdock you can reuse the pickling juice to pickle your own vegetables!

Suggested uses:Enjoy as is, with rice or cut into tiny pieces and mixed with mashed potatoes. You can also save the pickling juice to pickle your own vegetables. 
Ingredients:Burdock (from Japan), pickling sauce (soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, mirin, and apple vinegar) (includes soy and wheat)
Nutritional information:N/A



Producer:Yasashi Ume Yasan

Nothing reminds us of obaachan quite like the tart pickled Japanese plums known as umeboshi. Obaachans add umeboshi to a bowl of white rice or tucked into a rice ball known as onigiri. Our grandmothers would also give them to us whenever we had an upset stomach as it’s said to soothe tummy aches. Every May, obaachans will pick ume fruit from plum trees in their own backyards and pickle them in salt brines until they become plump and bright pink. 

Established in 1940, Yasashi Ume Yasan crafts these umeboshi just like obaachans would make them. Their ume are organically grown in Wakayama Prefecture, without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and carry the Japan Agricultural Standards organic certification. The organic requirements in Japan are so strict that even in Wakayama, an area famous for its ume, only 1% are certified organic! The ume is then pickled in sea salt to create plump, juicy and distinctively tart umeboshi. The organic difference in taste is as natural as if obaachan made them herself!

Suggested uses:Serve traditionally on top of a bowl of rice or in a rice ball (onigiri). To add a pleasant tartness to any dish, chop finely and use in pasta sauces, salad dressings, dips, spreads, marinades, and soups. 
Ingredients:Organic plum (from Wakayama Prefecture), sea salt (from Hyogo Prefecture)
Nutritional information: N/A


(丼もののたれ “君がいないと困る”)
Producer:Yagisawa Shoten

There’s nothing more comforting than a big bowl of hot steamy rice topped with seasonal vegetables and protein covered in a sweet yet savory sauce. Rice bowls, known asdonburi(from the word “don” which refers to the large bowl the dish is served in), are a complete and satisfying meal all in one delicious bowl. The ingredients are flexible, leading to unique regional and homemade varieties, and are a way for obaachans to use leftovers or ingredients on hand to create another meal. 

This donburi sauce, made by Yagisawa Shoten, tastes just like obaachan’s homemade secret recipe. It combines three simple ingredients: soy sauce using white-grain soybean from Iwate Prefecture (most commercial soy sauces use defatted beans, whereas this soy sauce preserves the soy beans’ natural oils leading to a mellow umami flavor), unrefined cane sugar from Kagoshima Prefecture (grown in the sun with nutrients from the soil of Kyushu) and hon mirin (the literal translation is true/genuine mirin which is different from the ordinary mirin you find in grocery stores) from Gifu Prefecture that has a thick texture and soft sweetness. 

Yagisawa Shoten is located in Iwate Prefecture, a large prefecture on the northeastern coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, an area severely damaged by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. In a single moment, the earthquake completely destroyed Yagisawa Shoten’s two factories, resulting in insurmountable losses. In the end, they were left with only two trucks. However, with a strong commitment to reviving their livelihood, the company rebuilt and is now able to continue producing their homemade products. 

For this donburi sauce, they combine their ingredients using thehon kaeshimethod in which sugar and mirin are added to heated soy sauce and left to age. Just like obaachan’s meals are never rushed, this allows for the full umami flavors to be enhanced and to blend together.

Learn more about the "miracle" soy sauce used to make this products in our Producer Spotlight.

Suggested uses:Try it in the oyakodon recipe provided, or use any ingredients you have on hand to create your own homemade donburi. Can also be used in traditional Japanese dishes such as nimono (simmered vegetable and seafood), kakuni (braised pork) and kinpira gobo (braised carrots and burdock), or in any other recipe that requires soy sauce, sugar and mirin.
Ingredients:Soy sauce (from Iwate Prefecture), unrefined cane sugar (from Kagoshima Prefecture), and hon mirin (true/genuine mirin from Gifu Prefecture) (includes soy and wheat)
Nutritional information: N/A


ほうとううどん 乾麺)
Producer:Arikawa Shouji

Thesehōtō noodles feel like a warm hug from obaachan.With a texture more similar to dumplings than noodles,hōtō noodles are thick, rustic noodles that are wider and doughier than regular udon noodles. Obaachans would knead the dough with their bare hands in wooden bowls and stretch them out to dry before folding and cutting them into hearty, homestyle noodles. 

Unique to Yamanashi Prefecture and the Kanto region of Japan, these noodles are best enjoyed just like obaachan would make them - by boiling them in a miso or dashi based soup along with pumpkins and mushrooms (try the homemade recipe included). 

Arikawa Shouji spent over a decade developing these special noodles, using proprietary techniques that help to maintain their freshness for a long period of time. The president himself tries every batch to ensure they pass his high standards!

Suggested uses:Unique to these noodles, they don’t need to be pre-cooked and can be added directly into a hot noodle soup as you cook the other ingredients.Follow the recipe provided to make a Hoto Udon Hotpot. Feel free to use any vegetables or protein you have on hand!
Ingredients:Wheat, salt, and starch
Nutritional information: N/A


In many ways, salt kelp defines traditional Japanese cuisine. It adds a salty sweet umami flavor to any dish and is the magic touch obaachans have been adding to home cooked meals for centuries and passing on to generations in every region of Japan. 

Salt kelp, orshio konbu, is found on hand in every obaachan’s kitchen. Strips of thick Japanese seaweed known as konbu are boiled in soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and bonito to soften the konbu and create a blend of tastes and flavors that to many are the essence of Japanese flavor. It’s then cut into bite sized pieces before being added to almost every home-made obaachan dish.

Kurakon was founded in 1921 in Osaka and for almost 100 years they have worked to produce konbu kelp and other high quality seafood. The company’s philosophy is simple: "to bring the blessings of nature to the table and to make the faces around it smile." Kurakon has won numerous awards, including recognition for their environmentally safe production methods and their social responsibility. 

Suggested uses:Extremely versatile, use in onigiri, on rice or in rice porridge, add to stir fries, pastas or salads, mix into an omelette or scrambled eggs, use in sauces or dressings, or as a seasoning anywhere you would use salt or want to add a dash of Japanese umami. Can also be used in place of bacon, for example in carbonara.
Ingredients:Kelp (from Hokkaido), soy sauce (including soybeans and wheat), sugar, starch syrup, protein hydrolysate (including soybeans), lactose, brewed vinegar, salt, yeast extract, agar, bonito extract, and starch
Nutritional information: N/A

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