By Shelly Detwiler, berry farmer and dietician
Honda of America’s first car rolled off the line in Marysville in 1982. Japanese engineers and executives have arrived and embraced central Ohio ever since. My first intro with the Honda wives was through edamame sales at the farm. The JNN, Japanese News Network as I like to call them, soon took over and our edamame business took off like a bonfire in high winds. These women were hesitant to speak English but full of smiles and gratitude for a familiar food. Five years ago, I got involved in “teaching” English at our church. These ladies are a sponge, soaking up not just English but everything they can about American food, culture and travel.
Ayane, my Japanese friend, and I go on all kinds of foodie adventures from Fox in the Snow bakery to a robot ramen restaurant. Our most recent adventure was to the Japanese Marketplace to pick up some things for Japanese New Year. First stop was Belle’s Bakery. A French-inspired Japanese bakery Food & Wine Magazine calls “One of America’s best Japanese bakeries.” We opened the door and my mouth dropped looking at all the beautiful cakes, breads, and confections. Matcha is a very popular flavor in Japan and if you haven’t tried it, it is like grass on steroids. And yes, I said grass! I have tried an assortment of matcha flavored cake, cookies, crackers, Kit Kats, whipped cream to even Lattes. Ayane talked me into a sampler cake roll which, of course, included Matcha. She ordered a Hojicha Latte. Hochi what? Oh, just make that two!” which I later found out was roasted matcha. I am either getting used to grass flavored food and beverage or it was pretty good, kind of like a lightly sweetened grassy hot chocolate with whipped cream. We left with our cake and our lattes and headed to the Tenske Market to shop for New Year’s food. Ayane was definitely on a mission with her list. I wanted to get a few things to make Tan Tan Ramen but good thing she was along since everything was printed in Japanese! It was an interesting adventure.
Japan celebrates the new year Jan. 1 to Jan. 3. It is a time to spend with family, to travel and enjoy special foods called Osechi-ryōri. This tradition started over 1,000 years ago and foods were prepped ahead of time since cooking was not supposed to happen during the holiday time. The foods are served in little compartmented boxes called Jūbako. Over the years osechi was traditionally made at home but just like everything else you can buy it pre-made these days. Just like sauerkraut, collards, black eyed peas and pork in the U.S., each tiny food has special meaning for the new year. Three of Ayane’s favorites are Kuri Kinton, Matsumaezuke and Kuromame. Kuri Kinton is a favorite of kids since it is the sweetest of all the dishes. It is a blend of Japanese sweet potato and chestnut that symbolizes prosperous business or lucky with money. A Japanese sweet potato has a purple skin and white flesh that turns yellowish after cooking. The Kanroni chestnut used is a cooked chesnut in a heavy syrup. Kuromame is a lightly sweet and savory black bean dish that means good health. Older recipes included a couple of rusty nails, but modern recipes include a rock or an iron trinket cooked with the beans to keep the black lucky color. Matsumaezuke ingredients include dried squid, seaweed, herring roe, and julienned carrots that are pickled in a mixture of sake, soy sauce and mirin. This dish similar to a salad or a slaw represents prosperity of descendants.
Japanese cuisine may seem not just out of the box, but a box shipped across your comfort zone. I hope you’ll take a quest to the Japanese Marketplace or try one of these recipes!
Happy New Year!
Eat Well and Healthy!
Kuri Kinton japanesecooking101.com
Instant Pot Kuromame Justonecookbook.com
Before You Start…
Please note that this recipe requires soaking the dried black soybeans for several hours or overnight, plus resting the cooked soybeans overnight. Please read and follow the package instructions for your black soybeans. My package directions say to soak for 4-5 hours, so I soaked them for 4 hours. For testing purposes, I tried soaking the same brand of soybeans overnight, and they came out a bit too soft. You may need to test to see how long you want to soak your soybeans.
Tan Tan Ramen bitemybun.com
This is not a New Year’s food but one of my favorites so I wanted to share.