Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Friday, September 30, 2011


Potherb mustard. (Brassica rapa var. nipposinica). みずな、水菜.

Lit. "water greens." The vegetable got its name because it is grown in fields that are shallowly flooded with water. Mizuna is a delicate plant from the mustard family with slender spear-shaped leaves. It grows in clumps and is characterized by a mildly spicy flavor. It is crisp and piquant. 

Mibuna is typically used in stir fries and one-pot dishes (nabemono), but can also be enjoyed raw in salads.  In Kyoto it is a also a popular vegetable for pickling, as it has a firm texture despite its tender appearance. 

Mizuna is one of the few vegetables that is indigenous to Japan.

[Mizuna. Photo from Wikipedia]

As mizuna has for many centuries been cultivated in and around Kyoto, it is especially associated with that city and also called Kyona ("Kyoto greens"). A closely related variety is Mibuna ("Mibu greens"), which belongs to the branded "traditional vegetables from Kyoto." Mibuna (壬生菜) is named after the Mibu Temple in central-western Kyoto. This variety has broader leaves and its scientific name is Brassica campestris var. lanciniifolia.

[Kyo Mibuna. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Monday, September 26, 2011


Inside-out rice cake. おはぎ、お萩。

Normally, rice cakes are made with a filling of bean paste (an), either sieved (koshian) or unsieved (tsubuan). Here, the rice cakes are "inside-out," that is to say, the filling has become the coating and the rice (a mixture ordinary rice and glutinous rice) is on the inside.

Ohagi are named after the bush clover, which flowers in early fall, in the season of the Autumn Equinox (and the Buddhist festival of remembering the dead called Higan). Although they are available the year round, they have a special connection with this season. In spring, during the Spring Equinox (when the same Buddhist festival is celebrated), they are called "botan mochi" or "peony rice cakes" after a typical spring flower.

[Ohagi (Botan mochi)]


Saturday, September 24, 2011


Japanese persimmon. (Diospyros kaki). かき、柿

Persimmon is the fruit of autumn and when you travel in japan in that season, you can see the bright orange fruit hanging in the trees, against a blue sky. And in winter strings of persimmons hang under the eaves of the farmhouses to dry. A beautiful, seasonal decorative effect.

Bessho Onsen 2004
[Kaki tree. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The kaki is among the oldest plants in cultivation - 2,000 years ago it was already grown in China. The kaki tree is similar in shape to an apple tree, but can grow to ten meters. It blooms from May to June. In Japan the main harvest time for kaki is in the months of October and November. Unusually, the trees have already lost their leaves by the time of harvest.

Kaki is a sweet, slightly tangy fruit. The high tannin content makes the immature fruit astringent and bitter. At the same time, the unripe fruit can be rather hard. As tannin levels are reduced as the fruit matures, it is best to allow it to rest. The texture will gradually soften and the taste becomes sweeter. This being said, there are several varieties, some of which remain very astringent (the Japanese cultivar "Hachiya") and others that are naturally sweet ("Fuyu"). Kaki can also be made into a confection after drying.

The high proportion of beta-carotene makes the kaki fruit nutritionally valuable. Throughout Asia, different healing properties are attributed to kaki. They are said to be helpful against stomach ailments and diarrhea. Immature fruits are said to be a treatment for fever. The juice of unripe fruit is said to lower the blood pressure and the fruit stem to relieve a cough.

[Kaki. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

This post contains information from the Wikipedia article on kaki.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Daikon oroshi

Grated rettich. 大根卸し(だいこんおろし)。

Daikon or giant white radish (aka rettich) is an important root vegetable in the Japanese kitchen. It is consumed in many ways, and here we look at the grated type.

Grated daikon is added to the dip sauce of tempura because it helps with the digestion of oily foods thanks to the enzyme diastase. Daikon oroshi is also added to noodle dishes.
Daikon oroshi can also be eaten as such, with a flavoring of soy sauce. The combination with fatty types of grilled fish is again very good. Mixed with baby sardines you get the dish jako oroshi. When red hot peppers are added to daikon oroshi you get a reddish dish that is called momoji oroshi.

The white parts of daikon taste best. Daikon contains lots of vitamin, calcium, iron and fibers. In the past, it even was used as a treatment for common cold in winter!

Daikon oroshi
[Daikon Oroshi. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Sunday, September 11, 2011


Savory pancake. お好み焼き、おこのみやき。

 Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake on which you can select a number of ingredients “as you like,” – the meaning of “okonomi.” The pancake is made from thick batter consisting of flour, finely cut cabbage, grated yam, eggs and dashi or water to which ingredients are added that give character to the pancake: beef, pork, squid, octopus, shrimp, oysters, etc.

The okonomiyaki is baked on both sides on a iron plate. Metal spatulas are used for turning the okonomiyaki around and to cut it in pieces when it is ready. Before that, it is coated with a thick, sweet sauce and topped with green seaweed flakes (aonori) and bonitoflakes (katsuobushi) – due to the heat, those flakes seem to dance on the pancake! Nowadays, also mayonnaise is added.

[Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima style]

Okonomiyaki is eaten everywhere in Japan. There are several local varieties. The usual one served all over the country is the one in Osaka style, where all ingredients are mixed together. This one really resembles a pancake. The second popular style is from Hiroshima, where the ingredients are not mixed with the batter, but stacked in layers and where also three to four times as much cabbage is used. Fried noodles are also often added.

In Okonomiyaki-restaurants you usually sit at a table with an iron plate so that you can prepare your own pancake – happily, the restaurant staff also helps out because the right timing is not so easy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Crunchy bits of deep-fried flour batter. てんかす、天かす。

Also called agedama. This is the same batter as used in making tempura. Small bits come of during the frying process and these are scooped out of the oil as otherwise they would start burning.

They can be re-used (and are sold separately for that purpose in supermarkets) by adding them to the soups of udon or soba, or sprinkled over cold udon noodles. Of course they fit well with tempura udon etc., but Tenkasu also can add taste quickly when there are little ingredients in the soup. But be careful not to be too liberal with them, as the taste soon gets oily.

Tenkasu (flakes of fried tempura batter)
[Tenkasu or agedama. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Clear soup. すましじる、澄まし汁。

Also called "O-sumashi." Ichiban dashi to which salt and soy sauce have been added.

In the picture below also very finely sliced negi, small pieces of nori and fu (the white circles) have been added.

This soup is also available as an instant product.

Sumashijiru is the homey form of suimono, the elegant soup served in a lidded bowl during the kaiseki meal.

  Clear soup (Osumashi)
[Sumashijiru. Photo Ad Blankestijn.]


Saturday, September 3, 2011


Kujo spring onions. くじょうねぎ、九条葱。

One of the officially branded vegetables originally from Kyoto (Kyo-yasai). Kujo is an area in the southern part of Kyoto. The spring onions that used to be grown here (they are now grown a bit farther south at Jujo) are large and sturdy. They also have a deep green color. Kujonegi are harvested from November to February and have a sweet taste. Their main use is in sukiyaki and hotpot dishes (nabemono). The thinner variant can also be used in udon, soba and miso soup.

Kujonegi (Kyo-yasai)
[Kujonegi. Photo Ad Blankestijn]