Our food "investigation" takes us to Hida Takayama, where we try a "superfood" called aburae or egoma seeds; and Ito City, where we meet a mandarin orange farmer and his self-sufficient family.
This week, we embark on another adventure to find out what locals eat in different cities. The first destination is Hida Takayama City in Gifu Prefecture. Takayama flourished as a castle town in the Edo period. There are still old streets here and the city is also called the "Little Kyoto" of Hida. It has since gained popularity as a producer of a “superfood” called aburae.
We walk along Sanmachi Street and check out a store which sells crafts of Takayama. The area is known for its wood so woodblock prints are used to dye fabric. Handmade dolls are another traditional craft of the city. We ask about the superfood aburae, which is commonly known as egoma seeds in other cities.
The locals in Takayama believe that egoma seeds help to lower triglycerides in the blood and prevent lifestyle-related diseases. In the Hida region, oil is extracted from egoma seeds, creating aburae. They resemble black sesame seeds and the tiny grains are crushed to extract the oil. The seeds are first roasted in a pan before being crushed. Egoma seeds can be prepared in many ways. They are used in goheimochi, for example. We visit a vegetable store which also sells aburae goheimochi. It stretches like cheese and has sugar in it too, making it sticky like miso. The store uses a special sauce with sugar and soy sauce for the goheimochi.
After this, we visit Sakaguchiya restaurant, known for its Hida beef sushi. Hida beef is one of this area’s specialities. The restaurant owner tells us egoma seeds are expensive so they are not an everyday ingredient. Her family only uses egoma to make Takayama’s traditional dishes when they have guests. We first try some Hida beef sushi before seeing lunch being prepared for the restaurant’s employees. Mr Michiue is the one who cooks for the 10 workers and on this day, he makes bibimbap using Hida beef. It is topped with an onsen egg. The family business has been around since 1890. Sakaguchiya was previously a Japanese-style hotel and the family now focuses solely on the restaurant, which opened about 35 years ago.
After this, we walk along the river towards a residential area and come across an oil refinery called Hida Egoma Honpo. It is owned by Mr Takahashi. Egoma seed oil is extracted here using an oil press machine. We get to sample some freshly extracted egoma seed oil, which has a golden colour and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Egoma Honpo sells its products online and has been getting many orders since egoma seeds became popular as a superfood about two years ago. One bottle of its egoma seed oil costs 2,900 yen.
Mr Takahashi agrees to let us see his meal. His wife and in-laws run a guest house in Takayama called Manri. At his home, his wife first roasts some raw egoma seeds before crushing them. Soy sauce, brown sugar and mirin are added and the paste is mixed with boiled potatoes. The family also uses the egoma seed paste to make goheimochi, which we had eaten earlier. Other dishes include grilled pickled Chinese cabbage and simmered komodofu, both of which are traditional dishes of Hida Takayama. Dessert is homemade yoghurt drizzled with egoma seed oil. The oil helps to reduce the sourness of the yoghurt.
Mr Takahashi shares what made him set up Egoma Honpo. Previously, there were no oil refineries in the area. Each family grew egoma seeds in their farms and consumed them in their homes. After seeing customers at the family’s guest house enjoy dishes made with egoma seeds, he decided to establish Egoma Honpo about five years ago.
Ito City in Shizuoka Prefecture is our next stop. It is well-known for producing mandarin oranges. We visit the Osada Farm, where satsuma oranges, lemons and taros are grown and shipped to local markets and restaurants. The farm also has a programme where fresh oranges and vegetables are sent to its members - who pay a fee of 40,000 yen - eight times a year.
Mr Osada takes us to his three-hectare orchard, which boasts wonderful views of Oshima, Izu Islands and Bousou Peninsula. He grows more than 10 kinds of oranges, together with lemons, grapefruits, buntan and camellias, from which he extracts camellia seed oil. Vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, carrots, pumpkins and onions are grown in between the orange trees. The family also has chickens and honey bees. Mr Osada takes care of his huge farm with his wife and daughter.
We are interested to find out what they are having for lunch. One of the dishes is hotpot with lemons, mushrooms, Chinese cabbage and carrots. The soup stock has kelp, small dried sardines and shiitake mushrooms from their farm. Other dishes prepared are chicken karaage; mixed rice with carrots, mushrooms and chicken; pumpkin salad; and yoghurt made with soya milk. The family is particular about seasonings and uses those without any additives. So homemade honey instead of sugar is added to the yoghurt. The Osada family is thus almost completely self-sufficient.
1) A must-try “superfood” of Hida Takayama is aburae or egoma seeds
2) Ito City is a well-known producer of mandarin oranges