It's Lunch Time

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Autumn
It's Lunch Time

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Japan Hour:

It's Lunch Time

This week, we check out more places around Japan to try their local cuisine. Our first stop is Miyajima in Hiroshima Prefecture. A famous attraction here is the Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site. A classic treat in Miyajima is deep-fried sweet maple buns; they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Meanwhile, grilled oysters with a dash of lemon are a seasonal speciality of Miyajima.

We next head to the town of Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. There are many small hills here with a view of the islands of Seto Inland Sea. One of them is Ikuchi Island along the Shimanami Kaido road. It is known as the birthplace of Japanese lemons; lemons have been cultivated here since the Meiji period. The island is now the largest producer of lemons in Japan.

We meet Mr Katayama, a farmer who grows lemons and other types of citrus fruits. He agrees to show us his meal, so we go to his house next to the farm. The dishes are mainly prepared by Mrs Katayama. Lemons are used in many of them. For example, chicken is stir fried with king oyster mushrooms, salt and pepper, after which lemon juice is poured on top. Rice is cooked with lemon peel, ginger and dried sardine bouillon and then steamed for 10 minutes with the ingredients stir fried earlier. Mrs Katayama also makes chicken wings with lemons in a pressure cooker. The sourness of the lemons helps to tenderise the meat. Potato salad with pickled lemons is prepared by Mr Katayama’s daughter-in-law, Naoko, and his grandson, Torachika.

After this, we make our way to the heart of Onomichi. We check out Shukaen, which is known for its Onomichi ramen. Onomichi ramen uses chicken and fish stock for its soy sauce soup base. It includes fatty minced pork and is a light local favourite. We chat with Mrs Okino, who works at Shukaen. She used to run her own restaurant and Japanese pub but had to shut them down due to the bad economy. She was then invited by one of her classmates, the owner of Shukaen, to work at this restaurant.

We are interested to see what she has for dinner, so Mrs Okino invites us to her home after the restaurant closes. She lives with her daughter and grandson. She tells us many people in Hiroshima will eat okonomiyaki at least once a week, so that is what she decides to prepare. For the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, cabbage and fried noodles are placed on top of the batter, after which pork slices are sprinkled on top. Mrs Okino also adds homemade stewed beef tendon with konjac and egg. 

Our next location is Semboku City in Akita Prefecture, a rice-producing region. Our first stop is Akakura Chestnut Farm Garden, where we meet chestnut farmer Kazuyoshi Akakura. He tells us chestnuts have been produced in this area for over 300 years. His farm spans three hectares. The chestnuts grown here, called Saimyouji, are said to be the largest in Japan. They can become as big as a baseball. After they are harvested, they are kept at a low temperature for a month and mature into delicious sweet chestnuts.

We request to see Mr Akakura’s lunch so we head to his house near the farm. He lives with his wife, Kaori. She starts by making chestnut rice using Saimyouji chestnuts. A blend of flying fish and dried bonito stock is poured into homegrown Akitakomachi rice. The chestnuts are added and then the rice is cooked in a rice cooker for an hour.

Green pepper miso is also prepared. Green pepper is simmered with rice malt, sugar, soy sauce and green chilli pepper for an hour. The mixture goes well with rice, white radish and avocado. Another dish is taro root soup. Carrots and white radish are boiled together with taro root and beef, and seasoned with miso and soy sauce. 

The meal also includes mizu - a mountain vegetable often eaten in the Tohoku area - served with mustard dressing; homemade smoked radish pickle, a speciality of Akita; radish pickled in brine and fermented rice bran; and pickled eggplant. To cap off the meal, freshly-roasted steaming hot chestnuts are served.

We continue our meal investigation in Semboku City and next speak to Shunichi Arakida, who grows buckwheat, rice and asparagus. The harvested buckwheat is ground into a powder and delivered to soba shops in the city. It is known for its sweetness and fragrance. In Akita, people make tofu by mixing buckwheat powder, arrowroot starch and potato starch; the mixture solidifies after it is carefully cooked over low heat.

After he has finished work, Mr Arakida allows us to visit his house to see his meal. He lives with his wife Mayumi and second son Yutaro. Dinner includes tempura made with maitake mushrooms; mushroom sake lees soup; roasted chestnuts; buckwheat tofu; boiled seasoned chrysanthemum and nameko mushrooms; and smoked radish pickles.

  

Tips:

1)     Deep-fried sweet maple buns are a classic treat in Miyajima

2)     Try the huge Saimyouji chestnuts when visiting Semboku City

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