Highlights this week include seasonal hotpots with seafood such as anglerfish and codfish; and a shop which sells about 10 types of buns with fillings such as ground meat and sweet bean paste.
This week, we first visit Hitachinaka City in Ibaraki Prefecture during the hotpot season. We aim to talk to people who are buying hotpot ingredients and see their meal. We go to a fish market called Nakaminato Osakana Ichiba, next to the fishing port. It was established in 1995 and has about 30 shops.
We decide to check out Morita Suisan, which opened in 1951. It sells a variety of seafood such as tuna, snow crabs, squid, codfish and fresh clams. We notice a huge anglerfish, which weighs 22kg and costs about 30,000 yen. It is hung so that it is easier to remove its skin and fillet it. Morita Suisan handles anglerfish caught in seas all over Japan. Anglerfish hotpot, a speciality of this area, is very popular in winter. This shop sells a four-serving hotpot package comprising meat, skin and liver. On some days, more than 100 packages are sold.
We speak to a customer buying anglerfish for making miso-flavoured hotpot. He does not add any water but just uses radish, Chinese cabbage and green onions. We meet another person who is buying shellfish such as hard clams and common Orient clams for dinner. Many of the customers at the market have actually come from Tochigi or Gunma prefectures to buy seafood in bulk.
We visit another area with many restaurants and more fish shops. We drop by one which also sells packaged anglerfish for hotpots. Uoichi is a family-owned shop which was founded in 1938. It sells nearly 20 different kinds of fresh seafood from Nakaminato’s fishing port. The most popular product is packaged daily local fish and there are about seven different kinds of fish. The owner tells us that besides anglerfish, flounder and thread-sail filefish are also in season now. They are usually eaten raw with soy sauce. We buy some local Pacific oysters, known for their great texture and milky taste, and have them with ponzu sauce.
The fish shop has a restaurant next door where they serve anglerfish soup and hotpot too. One of the owner’s daughters, Chikako, agrees to let us see what she is eating during her lunch break. Her meal comprises anglerfish soup from the restaurant and rice porridge cooked in anglerfish hotpot. The latter is a staple dish during winter and the family eats it up to four times a week. When the family has hotpot at home, they cook the ingredients in water or with Szechuan sesame seasoning. Ground meat and Chinese cabbage are added to ready-made soup stock. If they want to eat anglerfish hotpot, the soup and ingredients from the restaurant are taken home as preparing the seasoning can be tricky.
We return to the fish market to speak to more people. It is already 4pm and the shops are about to close. We speak to Tsukasa Kawakami, who is buying codfish to make hotpot for dinner. He agrees to our request to see his family’s meal. They live in Toride City, which is 1.5 hours away by car from Nakaminato Osakana Ichiba. Mr Tsukasa, who works at a printing plant, bought their spacious house about four years ago to raise their two kids, Hinata and Mana. He helps his wife Eri prepare the cod hotpot, which also includes tofu and Chinese cabbage. The flying fish soup stock is seasoned with salt. Tsukasa and Eri went to elementary and middle school together. They later became a couple and got married in 2013.
Our next destination is Meidaimae Station along the Keio Inokashira railway line. This time, we walk along the Koshu Kaido Road and visit a shop which specialises in meat buns. It only does takeaways and there is often a long queue of customers outside the shop. It sells about 10 kinds of buns with different fillings and of various sizes. Its most popular buns are those with ground meat and finely chopped cabbage. We try one of the large meat buns; the skin is chewy and the cabbage inside is nice and crunchy.
We return to the store at 5am on another day to observe Mr Tsuchida making the meat buns from scratch. He first makes the dough and he tells us the key to getting a chewy texture is to keep the room temperature at 28 degrees. This way, the yeast will ferment better. Next, he makes the filling, using rose pork from Ibaraki Prefecture. He seasons it with soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt and pepper. He then adds heated lard to the filling and mixes it. The last thing he adds is the cabbage.
Mr Tsuchida is from Sapporo City, Hokkaido. He was a salesman at a Japanese liquor manufacturer, but he left his job at the age of 27 to become a cook. He moved to Tokyo after being trained at a Japanese restaurant. There, he worked at a Chinese meat bun shop in Kagurazaka for 15 years to expand his skills. He eventually decided to open his shop in 1998. Besides the meat and sweet bean paste buns, he also sells shumai and gyoza dumplings.
For lunch, Mr Tsuchida is just having pork soup, which he had cooked in advance. As he manages the store alone, he would usually cook a huge portion once a week and have the same thing for lunch the entire week. Pork soup is a staple dish that he cooks at the store during winter. He learnt how to make it at the Japanese restaurant he worked at more than 30 years ago. The pork soup has a lot of vegetables. He also adds butter and sugar, a surprising hack he picked up from his master at the Japanese restaurant. Besides pork soup, Mr Tsuchida’s lunch also includes rice with grilled seaweed, which is one of his favourite dishes.
1) A must-visit spot in Hitachinaka City is the Nakaminato Osakana Ichiba fish market
2) Anglerfish hotpot is a popular winter dish in Ibaraki Prefecture