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Japan Hour

It's Lunchtime

Our culinary tour this week takes us to Aichi and Chiba prefectures, where we try the famous Nagoya Cochin chicken, dishes with common octopus, and "cup rice" with layers of vegetables and meat.

Our culinary adventure to find out what locals eat in different cities continues. The first stop is Komaki City in Aichi Prefecture. Its specialities include miso nikomi udon - thick udon noodles cooked in a broth made with miso - and hitsumabushi, a rice dish with small pieces of eel. But it is most famous for being the birthplace of Nagoya Cochin, a brand of chicken which represents Aichi Prefecture and which is well-known throughout Japan. We visit the Inagaki Breeding Farm, a Nagoya Cochin direct sales store. We meet Toshiyuki Inagaki, the president of the farm. He is nearly 90 years old and has been raising chickens for 60 years. 

We have to change our shoes before entering the farm. This is because Nagoya Cochin chickens are very delicate, sensitive and quite weak. After World War II, cheap and fast-growing chickens became popular and Nagoya Cochin was in danger of disappearing. Mr Inagaki revived the business and turned it into one of the area’s most famous brands. His neighbours thus call him Mr Nagoya Cochin. 

After touring the farm, we head to Yamada Yokei, a family-run egg store. They sell the eggs of Nagoya Cochin raised by them. We meet Mr Takashi Yamada, the owner of the store, and his mother Mieko. They agree to show us what they are having for dinner and invite us to their house. We are introduced to Mr Yamada’s wife Akane, whom he met at an agricultural training course in Switzerland. They got married five years ago and have two daughters. 

Mr Yamada’s mother and Akane start cooking dinner. The first dish they prepare is a hearty hikizuri, a type of sukiyaki made with a whole Nagoya Cochin chicken. After stir-frying various parts of the chicken, lots of Chinese cabbage, green onions and shiitake mushrooms are added. For texture, mochifu - a kind of wheat gluten - is added at the end. The dish is eaten by pulling meat out of the pot and that is why it is called hikizuri, which means "to pull" in Japanese. Nagoya Cochin bones are used to make the soup stock, which is mixed with Nagoya Cochin eggs and seasoned with salt and soy sauce. Another dish prepared is chawanmushi with eggs, shrimps and shiitake mushrooms. 

Isumi City in Chiba Prefecture is our next stop. The Ohara fishing port is known for its large lobsters and turban shells. The average weight for a turban shell is about 150g, but here they weigh between 800g and 1kg. Roasted lobsters and grilled turban shells are sold at the morning market at the port every Sunday. The city is also known for common octopuses. As they feed on turban shells and lobsters, they are larger than common octopuses from other areas and also tend to be sweeter. The city has one of the largest octopus hauls in Japan.

We go to a fishing cooperative at the port, where a unique octopus auction is about to start. The octopuses are sorted out for the auction according to size, damage and other factors. We meet Mr Suzuki at the auction and request to see his meal. He tells us he owns a restaurant-cum-hostel called Harumi. Its most popular dish is ihachimeshi, made from common octopus, Spanish mackerel, amberjack and yellowtail. He also has a fishing company and ships seafood to other restaurants and markets all over Japan. 

For his meal, he prepares several dishes with octopus. He first takes the octopuses he bought from the market earlier and boils them in a large pot. The octopus extract made from more than 300 octopuses is used for dishes such as octopus rice. He prepares a stew made with fresh octopus, octopus eggs and a secret sauce. He also boils some eggs in soup stock made with kelp and shiitake mushrooms. Other dishes include fluffy octopus eggs, octopus shabu-shabu and anchovy tempura which is dipped in the bony fish stew.

Mr Suzuki used to work at another restaurant as a cook. His father owned the fish shop while his mother ran the hostel. However, when his brother who was supposed to take over the fish shop passed away about four years ago, Mr Suzuki had to quit his job and take over the family business. 

We next go to Minami Bousou City, which is also in Chiba Prefecture. There is a roadside station called Furari Tomiyama which is very popular. Freshly picked vegetables grown by local farmers are sold here. They include a type of Chinese cabbage called tatsoi, Japanese leek, natural yams and endives. The vegetables are so popular that most of them are sold out by lunchtime.

Lunch boxes and prepared foods are also sold at the roadside station. We speak to Mrs Ishida, who sells her lunchbox meals, using vegetables from her home garden, here. She agrees to let us visit her house to see her preparing lunch. She tells us she has created a new cup-shaped dish for the roadside station. The “cup rice” features Japanese mustard spinach cream sauce gratin with rice. She mixes eggs, mayonnaise and Japanese soup stock, after which spicy ground chicken and ginger are added. For seasoning, she uses Yoshida Sauce, which goes well with meat. The mixture is put in cups together with turmeric rice. Scrambled eggs, lettuce, seaweed rice, spicy ground chicken soboro, tomatoes, cucumbers and salmon roe are added, creating beautiful layers of ingredients.

Mrs Ishida then makes the Japanese mustard spinach cream sauce. She boils vegetables from her farm such as Japanese mustard spinach, onions and potatoes. She then blends everything and adds flour, consomme, chicken soup stock, Japanese soup stock and milk, after which the mixture is blended again. It is then simmered on medium heat in a frying pan with melted butter until it becomes thick. Next, she cooks shimeji mushrooms, onions and bacon. Lots of macaroni and the white sauce are added and the mixture is put in a heat-resistant dish. It is topped with tomatoes and cheese and then cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese becomes brown. 

We later get to try Mrs Ishida's speciality gratin. This healthy dish is packed with meat and vegetables. Each layer has a different flavour and the Japanese mustard spinach complements the creamy sauce perfectly.


1)    A famous speciality of Aichi Prefecture is Nagoya Cochin chicken
2)    A must-try item at Isumi City’s Ohara Port is octopus



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