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Japan Hour

It's Lunchtime

A city known for its mackerel dishes, a confectionery shop with 100 kinds of sweets made from “Unjo” water, and an oden shop which also sells meatballs and cheese rolls are visited this week.

Join us on another culinary tour of cities to find out what the locals eat. Our first stop is Obama City in Fukui Prefecture. We start at the Mackerel Highway, which was a road used since the Asuka period to transport seafood caught in Wakasa Bay to Kyoto. In the past, fish such as mackerel was transported on foot but now trucks are used. We visit a shopping strip and go to a fish shop. It sells Echizen crabs, which can cost as much as 20,000 yen each. We also find out that dried Wakasa flounder is a speciality of Obama City. It was once presented to the royal family and is an indispensable ingredient in Kyoto cuisine.

We then visit a store called Tempura, which has been around for about 300 years. We meet Mr Furutani, the younger brother of the owner. He tells us that grilled mackerel and canned mackerel are popular in this area and they are often eaten at festivals. We also find out about Unjo water, which has been selected by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment as one of the 100 best waters in the country. It springs out from 30m underground and people come from places such as Kyoto and Osaka to get the water. Mr Furutani shows us the source of the Unjo water.

He also takes us to a confectionery shop, Iseya, which uses Unjo water to make Japanese sweets. About 100 kinds of confections are sold in the store, which was established in 1830. Popular items include kuzumanju - which is only sold in summer - and decchi yokan, which is available in winter. For the bean paste, the shop uses red beans from Tokachi, Hokkaido and boils them in the Unjo water.  

Mr Furutani shows us another famous place in the city, Kutsukiya. The store appeared in a famous morning TV series called Chiritotechin. It opened during the mid-Edo period and sells the city’s speciality, grilled mackerel on skewers. After this, we head to Mr Furutani's house. His 88-year-old mother takes care of the family’s farm, growing about 10 different kinds of vegetables. 

Mr Furutani’s wife prepares lunch, which includes lots of vegetables from the family’s garden. She grinds some Japanese yam, which is then blended with radish. Bok choy stir-fried with bacon, Nara pickles and pickled Chinese cabbage are among the other dishes. Mr Furutani suggests we go to Kumagawajuku, which was a lively post-town on the Mackerel Highway during the Edo period. We take his advice and head there, where we notice several restaurants serving mackerel sushi, a local traditional dish of the Wakasa region. It is made with domestic raw mackerel. The town is a popular tourist spot and attracts about 400,000 visitors every year.

We are interested to find out what the locals here eat and meet Mr Miyamoto, who is the president of the town development committee. He introduces us to the Nishimura family. For dinner, they are having Heshiko, a traditional preserved food of Wakasa, where mackerel is pickled in rice bran paste and grilled. Other dishes include boiled mackerel; boiled broccoli stems mixed with canned mackerel; boiled and seasoned radish leaves; and rice cooked with homegrown sweet potatoes. 

Our next destination is the Chiyodadori Shopping Street in Kamakura, Katsushika. Spanning 270m and boasting about 30 stores, it is a five-minute walk from Keisei Koiwa Station. We visit Masudaya, a fish paste shop which was established in 1958. It is owned by Kiyoshi Kiso, who apprenticed at a fish paste store in Tateishi after graduating from a fisheries high school. He started his own business at the age of 28 and has been making fish paste for 50 years. He uses golden threadfin bream and red bream to make oden ingredients. 

He also came up with the recipe for curry balls and makes up to 500 curry balls a day. The curry flavour goes well with the oden soup stock. We order the shop’s popular daikon radish oden. The bonito-based soup stock is seasoned with soy sauce, salt and vinegar. The shop also sells other homemade products such as gyoza rolls, sausage rolls, cheese rolls, squid with seven spices and meatballs.

We are keen to see what Mr Kiso’s family eats on a regular basis. We observe his daughter-in-law making lunch, using oden ingredients such as chikuwabu and konnyaku. She also simmers some radish, enoki and shiitake mushrooms and rolls them up with pork using potato starch. She also makes a sauce using garlic, sake, mirin, sugar and soy sauce. The vegetables rolled with meat cooked in the sweet and spicy sauce are a hit with the family.


Tips:

1)    Wakasa flounder is a speciality of Obama City
2)    Mackerel sushi is a must-try traditional dish in Kumagawajuku
 

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