It’s Lunch Time

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Summer
ep19: It's Lunch Time (Part 2)


Japan Hour:

It’s Lunch Time

(Updated: )

Our culinary trip around Japan continues this week. We next go to Naruto City in Tokushima Prefecture. We come across Ms Tojo, whose family runs a shop called Tojo Marine Products, selling things such as local kelp. Their business started in the late 19th century. We meet Ms Tojo’s daughter and husband and first try some boiled kelp dipped in sesame sauce.

We then get to see what the family has for lunch. The first thing is tempura. Unlike the usual tempura with breadcrumb coating, it is actually a fried fish cake of minced pollack and snapper. Another item is kelp root from the Naruto Strait sprinkled over rice. Rich in nutrients such as fucoidan, kelp root can also be sprinkled on tuna which is then put inside a rice ball.

Naruto City is also known for pottery so we head to Tamura Mercantile. Established in 1784, it produces Otaniyaki earthenware. Otaniyaki is Naruto City's traditional craft and the products are known for their high level of artistry, lustre and tasteful simplicity. The special characteristic of Otaniyaki is that it uses soil with a high iron content. We go to a nearby studio to learn how to make pottery. Splendid works created by generations of masters are displayed at the studio.

We meet its 10th-generation proprietor and a ceramics master of traditional Otaniyaki pottery, Mr Eichiro Tamura, and his wife Ms Keiko. We are given some hands-on lessons in pottery. We attempt to make a sake cup; we learn how the soil is shaped on the potter’s wheel and the bottom of the cup is made first. Rolled soil is coiled on top and the sake cup’s shape is formed. The last step is heating it in a kiln. At the studio, we also see large ceramic jars, some of which sell for over one million yen. Many of the large Otaniyaki earthenware are used for dyeing fabrics and brewing soy sauce. 

We ask Ms Keiko to show us what she is cooking for lunch. We go to the Tamura residence, which is just upstairs. The dishes are served in Otaniyaki wares made by Mr Tamura himself. Ms Keiko first prepares Tokushima ramen with pork belly. Sliced pork is sauteed and then seasoned with sugar, sake and soy sauce. The noodles are boiled and dipped in a Chinese broth and soy sauce, and finally topped with pork. Ms Keiko also grills vegetables such as lotus root and shiitake mushrooms on an Otaniyaki clay brazier made by Mr Tamura.  

Our next stop is Iga City in Mie Prefecture. Iga is famous for its ninjas - Hattori Hanzo, Tokugawa Ieyasu's personal ninja, is famous till this very day. One can see ninja monuments all over the city. The ninja's portable ration, called Katayaki, is a famous local product. It is dried using wooden weights and baked for 40 minutes. It is said to be the hardest rice cracker in Japan and is thus eaten after being cracked with a wooden mallet.

We first go to the Ninja Museum, which has ninja-related exhibits and holds performances of ninja shows. The interior is a replica of a room in a mansion that was built in the mid-19th century. It is rigged with many gimmicks that were used by ninjas in the past. For example, if one looks at the room partitions above when the light is turned on, one can see a red ninja spying from above.   

After this, we head to Kozan, a studio for Igayaki pottery. Iga’s traditional craft began in the 6th century and the pottery was loved by illustrious masters such as Senno Rikyu for its beauty and innovative styles. All kinds of ornaments and wares are produced in Kozan, such as kilns. We meet the second-generation master Mr Osao Morisato and his son Mr Hironobu. They allow us to visit their home nearby to see what they are having for lunch. Like the Tamura family in Naruto City, this family also uses ceramics made at their studio to prepare and serve their meals. The meal includes miso soup with sea lettuce from Iseshima and grilled flounder.

Iga is also known for its cattle and high-quality beef so we go to the family-run Nakabayashi Ranch. We are given a tour of the place by company president Mr Nakabayashi’s daughter. We find out that among the different kinds of beef distributed throughout Japan, Iga beef is of the highest grade. Iga's favourable climate and water are behind the rich flavour and softness of the meat, which is also called the "champion of beef".

We want to see what the family eats for lunch so we go to their home located within the ranch. Mr Nakabayashi’s wife Ms Yukiko first makes an Iga beef bowl. The beef is seasoned with a concoction made of onions, burdock, soy sauce, sugar and ginger. Ms Yukiko also prepares a provincial dish called Noppei soup, featuring bonito stock, yam, daikon radish, carrots and other vegetables. The locals would usually have this soup to keep warm when temperatures in Iga City drop.   

1) Otaniyaki pottery is a speciality of Naruto City
2) Beef is a must-try item when visiting the city of Iga