SEASONAL DELIGHTS (Fall 2021) - Kansai: A Cuisine as Diverse as its Culture (関西)
Tsukemono or “pickled things” are a staple in Japanese cuisine and often found as a side dish or garnish to any meal. They serve the purpose of cleansing one’s palate while aiding in digestion. One of the most common and popular tsukemono istakuan (pickled Japanese radish).
These unique takuan by Tarunoaji are made with the concept ofmakanai ryori, a simple dish prepared in a restaurant using only a few ingredients. It’s meant to feed the employees and is not normally provided to customers. It's a meal the workers look forward to and is often made by young apprentices hoping to have their abilities and talents recognized by the chef.
Tarunoaji, located in the countryside of Wakayama Prefecture, captures this simplicity and the old-fashioned flavor of when pickles were originally made as a way of preserving vegetables for the winter, in their makanai pickles. Using only natural ingredients, they begin by drying their daikon in the sun. This concentrates the sweetness and umami while creating a crispy, crunchy texture. They then season the daikon using natural pickling ingredients which contain no additives or chemical seasonings - a mixture that took their president three years to perfect. Tarunoaji is also one of the few takuan producers in Japan that still use a traditional aging method to ferment their pickles. In order to capture the unique sourness and natural depth of flavor, Tarunoaji's tsukemono are kept in barrels for more than 180 days, where they are fermented using vegetable lactic acid bacteria. This time and effort represents their “slow food” commitment to providing old-fashioned flavors and healthy food while focusing on the coexistence and co-prosperity with nature.
Ingredients:Daikon (Japanese radish), pickled seasoning (sugar, plum vinegar, sesame oil, salt, soy sauce, ginger, kelp, sesame, chili pepper, shiitake mushroom extract)
Suggested uses:Enjoy as iswhile noticing the unique combination of flavors from the takuan and sesame oil. Chop and mix into potato salad or fried rice, or mix with mayonnaise to make a sauce for grilled chicken or pork. Can also be chopped and mixed with olive oil, salt and lemon juice to make a marinade for seafood and fish, or as a filling for gyoza.
TAKOMESHI (MIXED OCTOPUS RICE) SEASONING
Tako (octopus) is a popular seafood enjoyed in Kansai, particularly in Osaka where it can be found in the traditional festival food calledtakoyaki (octopus balls). The ball-shaped treats are made from a savory batter filled with chopped octopus, tempura scraps, green onion, and pickled ginger, which is cooked in a griddle with hemispherical molds. The batter is flipped with long picks while cooking and served hot topped with takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, aonori (seaweed flakes) and katsuobushi (bonito/skipjack tuna flakes).
Made using Izumi octopus from Sennan, Osaka, Nagaike Konbu’s takomeshi seasoning allows you to enjoy the local taste of octopus combined with umami fromma-konbu (natural kelp from southern Hokkaido).
Run by Motoki Amano, Nagaike Konbu was established in 1864 and is currently in its fifth generation. Amano-san grew up in his family’s konbu store but originally didn’t want to work in the family business. He spent 10 years working as a salaryman before returning to run his parents' shop. Since then, he has maintained the personal spirit and pride of retailers who sell their own products, with an aversion to mass production. His company uses high-quality local ingredients and produces handmade, traditional products made by skilled craftsmen.
Ingredients:Octopus (from Osaka),ma-konbu (natural kelp from southern Hokkaido), soy sauce, mirin, sake, katsuo extract, kelp extract, sugar, vinegar, yeast extract (includes wheat and soybeans)
Suggested uses: Makes 2 servings. Rice cooker instructions: In the pot of rice cooker, mix 300g of uncooked rice with one package of the octopus rice mixture. Add the separate package of ma-konbu and the amount of water required by your rice cooker for 2 servings of rice. Cook as usual following the directions of your rice cooker.Stove top instructions: This technique for cooking stove top rice was taught to us by a local Japanese cook and is a great way to make delicious, fluffy rice. Wash 300g of uncooked rice with cold water and drain until the water is no longer murky. Add the rice to a medium sized pot or donabe and soak in 360-380ml of water for more than 30 mins but not longer than 3hrs. Mix in the octopus rice mixture. Cover with a lid and cook on a stove top on medium heat for 10 mins. As you start to hear the lid vibrate, turn the heat down to low and allow the rice to simmer for another 10 mins. Turn off the heat and steam the rice with the lid on for 5-10 mins. Fluff and serve.
PREMIUM MOSHIO (SEAWEED SALT) FROM AWAJI ISLAND
Salt has a special significance in Japan far beyond its culinary uses. In Shinto belief, salt has the power to purify land and guard a home from impurities. Sumo wrestlers throw handfuls of salt before fighting to purify the ring. Salt is also cherished in Japanese food as a solo ingredient, as well as a key ingredient in staple seasonings like miso and soy sauce.
Despite the cultural and culinary significance of salt in Japan, the country does not have abundant salt resources such as rock salt or salt lakes, and its climate is not suitable for sun salt production due to the high humidity and high rainfall. In ancient times, Japan struggled to find ways to extract salt from the sea, which contains only about 3% salt, with the main form of salt production coming from the ashes of baked seaweed (ash salt).
Moshio is salt derived from seawater and seaweed such as sargassum. Unlike refined salt which is pure white, this beige-tinted salt is rich in minerals from the sea including iodine, calcium, potassium and magnesium. With relatively low salinity, moshio has a mild taste, yet is rich in umami.
Awaji Island, known asAwaji-shima, is located in Hyogo prefecture and is famous for its salt production. This premium moshio from Tada Philosophy is produced by hand and takes four days to make under the watchful eye of their master salt makers. The seawater is sourced from the southwest tip of the island in Fukura Bay, which is known for its tidal whirlpools. After impurities have been carefully filtered out, the seawater is concentrated to raise the salinity level and then heated in an open caldron for almost an entire day. Seaweed is then left to soak in it overnight as salt crystals begin to form. It is further boiled down for many hours, at which point white crystals begin to form a thin, delicate crust on the surface of the dark coffee-like color of the seawater. Thesecrystallized “salt flowers” sink to the bottom, and later moshio and bittern are separated. On the third day, the seawater is boiled again in a caldron and placed in a cold storage for a day. The mixture is then carefully sifted by hand and inspected under the keen eye and experience of seasoned salt makers. Only a small amount of salt can be obtained from one pot, making this a truly valuable gift from the sea.
Ingredients:Sea water (Awaji island), seaweed
Suggested uses:Use as you would any fine finishing or cooking salt.
HITOFURI KONBU (KELP)
90% of Japan’skonbu (thick edible kelp) is harvested in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, where mineral-rich water provides a nutrient-dense environment for some of the world’s best konbu to grow. Tough and difficult to digest on its own, konbu must be cooked for a long time, which also draws out its high amount of umami.
Konbu has a rich history in Japan. After the middle of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), konbu trading ships began to actively travel between Matsumae in Hokkaido and Honshu. It was around that time that konbu was consumed by common people. In the Edo period (1603-1868), konbu was transported directly from Shimonoseki in Honshu to Osaka, the then center of commerce, via the Seto Inland Sea. The route was known as “The Kelp Road” and brought about a food revolution in Japan. Until that time, cooking with salt, miso, and soy sauce was most common in Japan. The introduction of konbu brought about the use of konbu dashi, which was established in Osaka and spread throughout the country, leading to the diverse, umami flavors now found in Japanese cuisine.
Our producer, Tsukushin, usesma-konbu (lit. “true kelp”) from Hokkkai to make this Hitofuri Konbu. Ma-konbu has thick leaves that are wider than other konbu with a light brown color, and a refined sweetness, deep aroma, and rich umami flavor. Tsukushin believes in respecting the taste of nature. Since its founding, they have only used natural kelp from Hokkaido, which is allowed to mature naturally for a full two years before harvesting (this compares to other kelp which are often forced to mature within just a year). The extra time allows the kelp to develop a rugged surface and sticky fibers, which creates a deeper flavor. This hitofuri konbu adds umami with just one dash (hitofuri means “single shake”).
Ingredients:Ma-konbu (Natural kelp from southern Hokkaido), soy sauce (including wheat and soybeans), yeast extract
Suggested uses:A great substitute for salt, add it on top of rice, pasta, vegetables, tofu or fish.
YUZU KINZANJI MISO
Our producerMarushin Honke has infused their miso with the aroma of yuzu, Japan’s prized citrus fruit. From the outside, yuzu resembles a lemon with its bright yellow peel. However, the fruit is larger and squatter with a flavor best described as a cross between a tart lemon, a sweet mandarin orange, and a fragrant grapefruit. To make their Yuzu Kinzanji Mizo,Marushin Honke uses the juice and zest of pesticide-free yuzu from Arida in Wakayama Prefecture. The miso is raw, meaning that it has not been heated, which preserves all the healthy bacteria naturally present in miso.
Marushin Honke developed their miso recipe through repeated trial and error over four generations, following age-old traditions in Japan. They follow the motto of “do not use what you do not need.” To make their flavorful miso, they do not use any preservatives or colorings - aside from natural ones - so that they can bring out the gentle, pure flavor of the natural ingredients. It’s the perfect blend of salty miso and citrus yuzu with just a touch of sweetness.
Ingredients:Rice (from Japan), barley, soybeans, sardines, sugar, starch syrup, salt, ginger, eggplant, yuzu, shiso, alcohol
Suggested uses:Use as a dip for fresh vegetables like cucumbers and celery, or with cream/cottage cheese as a spread for crackers/bread. Try as a topping on grilled fish, steamed rice, orokayu (rice porridge) just before serving, or use to season stir fried dishes. Can also be used in a marinade as in the Yuzu Kinzanji Miso Fish recipe provided. Note: Not to be used for miso soup.
NUKA PICKLED HESHIKO SABA (MACKEREL)
Heshiko is a traditionalnukazuke (rice bran pickle) that is popular in the Kansai region, particularly in Kyoto. It consists of saltedsaba (mackerel) that has been pickled in a rice bran starter known asnuka. The pickling process helps to bring out the full flavors of the saba, which has a buttery texture and mild sweetness.
Sakita Shoji, located in the northeastern region of Kyoto, brings this traditional dish to your home. They carefully pickle their heshiko using a unique aging method that preserves its full depth of flavor. To enjoy this heshiko the traditional way, we recommend making ochazuke, which is a simple yet comforting traditional dish made from steamed rice with savory toppings, such as this fish, partially steeped in green tea.
Ingredients:Saba (mackerel) (domestic), salt, rice bran, chili
Suggested uses:Enjoy on rice (pour tea on top to makeochazuke) or as a snack with sake. Add chopped to rice to make onigiri (rice balls). Put on a cracker with cream cheese, or in salads, fried rice, pasta and pizza. Use as a substitute for anchovies.
OKONOMIYAKI MIX MADE WITH RICE FLOUR
Okonomiyaki, sometimes called “Japanese pizza,” is a savory pancake and is one of Osaka’s most iconic dishes. A variety of ingredients, usually vegetables such as cabbage and protein such as pork or seafood, are mixed in a batter and cooked on a griddle like a pancake before being topped with okonomiyaki sauce (similar to a thick Worcestershire sauce), Japanese style mayonnaise,katsuobushi (bonito/skipjack tuna) flakes,aonori (seaweed flakes), and pickled ginger.
The name literally means “what you like” (okonomi)“grilled” (yaki), so the ingredients and toppings can vary depending on the region and local ingredients. In Hiroshima, noodles are added. In Kobe, ingredients are added in layers instead of being mixed together. Many locals take great pride in their hometown version, playfully competing with others on who makes the “best” okonomiyaki.
Okonomiyaki is a communal comfort food in Japan, eaten with friends at a restaurant or with family at home. In many restaurants, the batter and ingredients are brought to the table with a griddle in the middle and the guests cook the pancake themselves as part of the fun, or you can sit at a counter and watch it being cooked in front of you. A single okonokiyaki pancake is often shared among many people, with a fresh one being cooked when the group is ready for more.
Sakurai Foods got their start as a noodle company in 1910, producing udon noodles by hand using a hand-cranked noodle machine. Since then, the company has continued its commitment of “delivering health to the table.” Sakurai Foods focuses on selling organic foods, along with offering gluten-free and vegan versions of many classic Japanese dishes.
Ingredients:Rice flour (from Gifu Prefecture), organic chickpea powder, potato starch, kelp powder, salt, shiitake mushroom powder, baking soda (gluten-free and vegan)
Suggested uses:Use to make Osaka’s iconic okonomiyaki using the recipe provided.
Nothing says “Kyoto” quite likeyatsuhashi cookies. In Japanese culture, people traditionally bring back food souvenirs, known asomiyage, from their travels to share with friends, family, and work colleagues. Every region produces its own special souvenirs, yetyatsuhashi from Kyoto are among the most famous and widely recognized in all of Japan.
There are several types of yatsuhashi from the soft and chewynama (or raw) yatsuhashi to the traditional crunchy baked variety. Typically made from a combination of rice flour and sugar flavored with cinnamon, these baked yatsuhashi from Aoyama Mameju also includekinako (roasted and ground soybeans), which adds a sweet, nutty flavor similar to peanut butter. To make the cookies, the dough is rolled into a rectangle and baked until hard, giving the cookies an elegant curve which resembles a Japanesekoto (or harp).
Aoyama Mameju, based in Kyoto and located near the entrance to Sennyuji Temple, has been producing traditional sweets and snacks since the store was founded in 1912. When you step into the shop, you can feel yourself transported back to the Edo Period by the shelves lined with bean snacks, simple cookies, rice crackers, and more. The company prides itself on its careful selection of ingredients and staying true to traditional recipes.
Ingredients:Sugar, rice flour,kinako (roasted ground soybeans), ground cinnamon, sesame (includes soy and sesame)
Suggested uses:Enjoy as is. Delicious with coffee or tea (try pairing it with one of the teas from our Japanese Green & Specialty Teas: “Ryu” Care Package). Note: Baked yatsuhashi are quite crunchy and dense. Enjoy with care!
WAKAN HON (TRUE) KUDZU-YU
Kudzu starch (also known askuzu) is made fromkudzu, a climbing vine which grows native in Japan. The entire plant is used: the leaves feed livestock, the stems are used for cloth, and the roots are dried and ground to make starch powder. The powder is commonly used as a thickening agent and can be found inwagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) as well as savory dishes.Compared to other starches, kudzu starch does not have a starchy taste and is clear and transparent, making it a superior choice for glosses and in soups, sauces and desserts.
Hon kudzu, or true kudzu, is considered the best quality starch. It’s made entirely from the kudzu root which is harvested in the middle of winter when the starches are at their highest level. The roots are repeatedly crushed and soaked to remove the fibrous bark and any impurities, and squeezed to extract the pure snow-white starch. Hon kudzu has become a precious ingredient as the number of kudzu root foragers and areas where high quality kudzu can be harvested have decreased.
Yoshino in Nara Prefecture is famous for its kudzu. To make thiskudzu-yu (kudzu tea), Sakari Seimenjo mixes kudzu with a beautiful blend of brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon and ginseng. Kuzuyu warms your body and helps you feel better when you are sick. Sip it slowly to enjoy the mild sweetness and warm, spicy aftertaste.
Ingredients:Hon (true)kudzu starch (produced in Japan), brown sugar, unrefined brown sugar, ginger powder, cinnamon, ginseng leaf
Suggested uses:Microwave instructions: Mix 1 pouch with 100ml of boiling water in a small microwaveable teacup or mug until well combined. Cover and heat at 500W for about 40 seconds. If not yet transparent, continue heating at 500W for 10 seconds at a time until the mixture becomes fully transparent.Alternative instructions: Pour 1 pouch of powder into a small teacup or mug. Add a bit of boiling water, just enough to mix well and create a thick paste. Once you have created a smooth, even paste, add a bit more boiling water, mixing well. Repeat until you have added about 100ml of water. The mixture should become transparent.
KYOTO KUDZU MOCHI (MATCHA AND PLAIN)
Kudzu takes on a different form in these jelly treats made by Natural Attorait, one of which includes Japan’s prized tea,matcha, from Uji. The city of Uji is located just south of Kyoto and is the second oldest tea-growing region in Japan. Green teas from Uji, known simply asujicha (or Uji tea), became popular among Japanese nobility over 800 years ago during the Kamakura era and remain popular to this day. Ujicha are considered the most refined teas in Japan, with matcha being the most treasured.
All tea comes from the same plant,camellia sinensis, but it is the processing of the plant that produces each tea’s distinct flavor and aroma. Matcha, the fine, vibrant green powder used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, comes from green tea leaves known astencha. Similar togyukurogreen tea, the leaves are shaded from sunlight three weeks prior to harvest which increases chlorophyll production and results in a brighter green color and a sweeter bitter taste. Instead of being rolled like other green teas, the leaves are laid flat so that the stems and veins can be removed before being ground into the fine powder known as matcha.
As you enjoy these treats, notice the texture as well as the balance between the sweet and bitter flavors - a reflection of the bitter sweet moments in life!
Ingredients: Matcha Kudzumochi: sugar, sweet potato starch, organic matcha (from Kyoto), kudzu starch, agar,konnyaku (konjac) flour;Plain Kudzumochi: sugar, sweet potato starch, kudzu starch, agar,konnyaku (konjac) flour;Matchamitsu (syrup): sugar, organic powdered green tea (Kyoto prefecture)
Suggested uses:Remove the kudzu mochi from the package by sliding a toothpick around the edges of each. Top the plain white ones with matcha mitsu syrup. You can also top the matcha kudzu mochi with the matcha mitsu syrup for a more pronounced matcha taste.
TSUYANO TAMA (KONNYAKU SPONGE)
This sponge is made fromkonnyaku (konjac) fiber, a pure vegetable fiber taken from the root of the elephant yam root. Konnyaku is usually eaten in Japan but it is also prized for making sponges, which are gentle yet effective at cleaning. In fact, our producer Hatanaka Shoten uses food-grade konnyaku, resulting in safe, high quality sponges. Hatanaka Shoten has been making konnyaku sponges for over 300 years. The sponges are gentle enough even for sensitive skin and have been used for centuries in Japan for cleaning babies. You’ll be surprised by how clean, soft and smooth your skin feels after using it, even without using soap!
To use, submerge the sponge in warm bath water and gently squeeze with your hand until it expands and becomes soft. With lots of water in the sponge, use it to gently cleanse your skin. The sponge can be used for about 3 weeks. Avoid using it with soap containing enzymes, as this may cause the natural fibers of the konnyaku to break down. Since the sponge is made from natural fibers, it may grow mold if kept in a damp area. To store, squeeze as much water out of the sponge as possible and store in the fridge. If mold does grow, discard immediately.