We discover a variety of mouthwatering dishes and seasonings made with Shimonita's famous leeks, and visit an early morning auction at the Odawara fish market during our culinary tour this week.
Join us as we visit various cities to find out what the locals eat. Our first stop is Shimonita, Gunma Prefecture. It is well known for its leeks so we speak to some leek farmers at the market. One of them has been growing Shimonita leeks for 40 years, while another has been farming for 60 years. We then go to a roadside station, which opened in 2003. Besides fresh Shimonita leeks, it also sells a variety of products made with the leeks. They include various seasonings, such as one made of leeks, soy sauce and garlic. There are also rice seasonings, leek miso and curry.
We meet Minako Nakano, who came all the way from Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture to buy the famous leeks. She is going to have lunch and agrees to let us accompany her. We go to Restaurant Orange at the roadside station. We order buckwheat noodles with dipping sauce and salt-flavoured ramen with lots of stir-fried Shimonita leeks. The buckwheat noodles are stir-fried with thick slices of leek and local pork and cooked in a bonito-based soup stock. The dipping sauce also has a great aroma of leeks.
We then head to the main street in front of Shimonita Station and drop by Ebisuya, a local tea shop which opened more than 70 years ago. It sells its original tea made with Shimonita leeks and other products made with dried leeks. It also produces and sells various seasonings, such as one made from Shimonita leeks mixed with chilli peppers and other spices. The owner is unable to show us his dinner so he introduces us to Susumu Morikawa, who owns a liquor store. We walk over to Morikawa's Liquor Store, which was established in 1901. It sells various kinds of local sake from Gunma, including the award-winning Seitoku Meijo.
Mr Morikawa and his wife, Emiko, live behind the store. She prepares Shimonita leek sukiyaki, leek tempura, and konnyaku noodles with pork and leek. The sukiyaki includes huge log-grown shiitake mushrooms called Super Jumbo. The sukiyaki sauce is made with mirin and soy sauce. We also get to try the speciality local sake, Seitoku, which is popular among the locals.
Our next stop is the Odawara fish market in Kanagawa Prefecture. We visit the market at 4.30am and see an auction going on. On this particular day, 10 tonnes of seafood are sold off, including more than two tonnes of mackerel and red sea bream. Other types of seafood sold at the auction are red cornetfish, mahi-mahi - a large fish also known as rainbow fish - striped bonito, red gurnard, thread-sail filefish, flounder and tilefish.
We speak to Mr Tanaka, who owns a fish shop called Marumoto in Isehara City. Marumoto has been in business for generations. The family first ran a retail store in Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture. Mr Tanaka moved the store to Isehara City in 1990. He goes to the Odawara fish market every morning to get fresh seafood caught in Sagami Bay. He then sells them to various stores and restaurants.
We meet some of the employees of Marumoto, including Katsumi Ikemoto, who is affectionally called Kacchan. He is in charge of filleting the fish. We are also introduced to Takaya Iino. Known as Master, he owns a jazz bar nearby. More than three years ago, he started working at the store when he is free during the day. For lunch, Mr Tanaka prepares a luxurious fish rice bowl for his staff. It includes horse mackerel, tuna and flounder. He also makes sunfish liver, sunfish simmered in sweet and spicy soy sauce, and boiled sunfish served with miso mustard.
1) Leeks are famous in Shimonita and are used in various dishes, including seasonings
2) Auctions at fish markets are a good way to find out the types of seafood available in that area