Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Aki no Mikaku - The Tastes of Autumn

If you haven’t noticed already, my Kitty mania seems to be bleeding into a recent obsession with Japanese food. Rather than try to separate the two topics and make a lame attempt at a foodie-blog (I'll leave that to the real foodies) I thought this would be the perfect time to focus on the Regional Kitty food items I’ve been able to get my hands on as well as the mascots that celebrate some of my favorites.

The past couple of posts have featured wagashi and there's more snacks and sweets to explore, but for this post, I want to focus in on Autumn and some of the wonderful foods associated with this season.

AKI NO MIKAKU - Tastes of Autumn

In the past, Genyo & Gotochi released a series of limited mascots that celebrated the food staples that represent the clarion call for Autumn in Japan.

Chestnuts (Kuri)

Kitty as Kuri is one of the few larger plushes I wanted to add to my collection. She is a fully encased chestnut or "kuri". Chestnuts are used in a number of sweets both traditional and western-influenced. However, the one dish that I think connects chestnuts to the arrival of autumn is Kurigohan or chestnuts cooked with rice.

Matsutake Mushrooms

Kitty introduces us to the Rolls-Royce of Mushrooms and the "king of autumn flavors" the matsutake mushrooms. Matsutakes have a full flavor and a piney-cinnamon aroma - that is what I am told. I have yet to try one! It earns its name from its favored growing spot, at the foot of pine trees. In Japan, the most highly prized ones are the kind that Kitty presents. Her cap is closed and close to the stem. If she were on the market, she could go for a few hundred dollars.

Pacific Sauri (Sanma)

Kitty poses in the grocery store as pacific saury or sanma, a slender, silver- colored, fatty fish that is often enjoyed salt-broiled or char-grilled. Unlike her autumnal counter-part, the matsutake mushroom, sanma is an inexpensive Fall food and is enjoyed by all. Read about the Sanma's comic history.

Roasted Sweet Potato (Yaki Imo)

Kitty presents herself as a fire-roasted sweet potato. It may not seem like a big deal, but I think for many Japanese people, there are many nostalgic feelings that arise when they walk down the street and hear the call 'ishiyaki imo!' or hear the song of the 'yaki-imo' man as he drives down the street in his truck. Even the most curmudgeonly hearted Scrooges will cut some slack for the yaki-imo man. It means fall is drawing to an end and winter will soon be coming.

The REal-Life Food Part: Thanks to some inspiration from the eGullet forums, I was reintroduced to a rice dish that screams of that tired-old Iron Chef phrase "subtle-yet-profound". I hadn't eaten it or seen it for years, but when the topic of takikomi gohan (losely translated to "boiled with rice") came up, I saw these wonderful photos of the posters delicious recipes. One in particular spoke to my nostalgic taste buds: rice, aburaage and mushroom cooked in a delicately seasoned rice. The color of the rice, the glossiness of the mushrooms and carrot shreds made my stomach ache with homesickenss as well as hunger. My stomach demanded that version of takikomi gohan and would not except any other. It was also making a great excuse to upgrade our rice cooker!

I can't afford to buy matsutakes (even the ones grown here in the US) so I looked in our local Whole Foods for some 'shrooms that might be in season. Alas, they seem to think that the only mushrooms that we will eat are buttons and portobellos. Oh well...Those and some dried shiitakes might do the trick.

Oita Donko
Region: Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Kitty dresses as a very high-grade shiitake mushroom called "Donko" or winter mushroom. Her cap is thick, round and curled inwards, unlike her koshin cousin (the ones we see more frequently here in the US) which has a flared, flat cap. Oita is said to be the largest producer of these Shiitake mushrooms. This may have something to do with the fact that 70% of Oita prefecture is occupied by forest - a key to "cultivation success."

My first batch of takikomi gohan in our new Zojirushi IH rice cooker. I don't know how I could have survived so long without this cooker or this dish!

So simple and yet so delicious. How could I have forgotten this dish? My reticular activator was on red alert. I was seeing takikomi gohan everywhere. Next thing I knew, I was watching "Iron Chef America" - something I haven't done since it took the place of the original - watching Morimoto make the same mushroom, aburaage takikomi gohan...and it was in a clay pot or donabe. As I watched him carefully dish out the rice from of the center of the donabe into bowls, my stomach remembered something else - OKOGE!!

Okoge is that wonderful, chewy, sometimes crispy burnt rice that resides at the bottom and sides of a rice pan - you won't find the really good okoge at the bottom of a rice cooker since most of them are teflon coated. But if you're an experienced pro like Morimoto or just good at making rice on the stove top, okoge from takikome gohan or your favorite rice porridge is the ultimate in rice experiences! This is okoge from a teflon coated pan - it looks like good okoge, but it won't have that crispy/chewy texture

Here is a wonderful "depiction" of okoge:



Blogger ichigogeisha said...

The hello kitty plushes are so very adorable...and now my stomach is growling over a nice hot bowl of takikomi gohan!


1:41 AM  
Blogger Marya Fernanda said...

Hello! I've just discovered your blog, and I have to say your collection is amazing!!! ^^

I do collect regional Kitties myself, but instead of the plushes, I hunt down the straps and mascots!!

I hope your collection keeps growing, and please continue to post here! ^~

11:04 PM  
Blogger cheeko-san said...

Glad you are enjoying the blog - I wish I had more time to spend on it!

Enjoy your hunt for those tiny mascots. They're a lot of fun to look at and take up a lot less space :-)

10:50 PM  
Blogger . : : hAiLee : : . said...

I'm a Hello Kitty fan =) i was so happy while viewing your blog... i hope to visit Japan asap! Just for the sake of HELLO KITTY ^_^ Meanwhile, pls continue to post more Hello kitty alright =p

5:39 AM  

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