What Is Washoku?
Eating is, without doubt, one of the highlights of traveling. Sometimes food can be a key for the selection of the country or town to visit. If you want to know about the country or town that you visit, the best way is to dine in a normal house with the family members. But it is difficult and even impossible for ordinary travelers.
In December, 2013 Japanese cuisine, “Washoku”, was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. They say Japanese cuisine contains less oil and healthy. This is, of course, a good news and it may not be so difficult to imagine why people had thought that this nomination of UNESCO was inevitable. Now we have a problem that many people do not want to cook their meals at home, especially vegetable and fish oriented simple dishes. (cf: official site of Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries)
In big cities such as Tokyo, there are great many restaurants. There are also many supermarkets and convenience stores where ready made foods / plates are sold. It is very convenient. We don’t have to think what to cook or what to buy in stores for ingredients. If you have a microwave oven in your kitchen you can live without using any other kitchen facilities. You don’t even have to use kitchen knives.
Yes, we are too busy to cook.
However, if we don’t eat, our precious lives will end and if we don’t live we cannot be busy. So, I think no matter how busy we are, we should be more keen on eating, the food.
I forgot who said this but still I remember: Armani’s suit cannot be any part of your body. If you take it off, nobody cannot tell that you were wearing it. But the food you eat will become a part of your body and if you take off your clothes, anybody can tell your eating habit.
Regarding to Tokyo, there were many restaurants also in Edo period because there were many workers living alone who came to Tokyo for working without their family. So, many houses of the working class in Edo town were very small without a kitchen, which was a kind of nest to them. That’s why there were many restaurants, which would be better to be called eating places. Restaurants were for the rich, while pubs and stalls were for workers, where they offered food at a low price.
(Those who want to know more about how Tokyo used to be, please refer to my past articles in archive.)
Is Edo Really Ex-Tokyo?
What Was Edo Like Before Edo Period
Tokyo, the City of the Metamorphosis, Die Verwandlung
Nevertheless, when I heard about the news that Washoku was added to UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage, a simple question came up to me.
“What is Washoku?”
Washoku literally means “wa”= Japanese, “shoku”=eating, food, cuisine. So It should be Japanese cuisine. But what is Japanese cuisine? If I think very simply, these dishes should be Washoku; Kaiseki, Sushi, Sashimi, Tempura, Sukiyaki, Shabu-shabu, Yakitori, Unagi… etc. In fact, all of them are on English Wikipedia!
These are famous and popular but they are not what we, the Japanese, eat everyday and they are a kind of “Sacred” if I use the dichotomy of French sociologist Émile Durkheim’s “the sacred” and “the profane”. I mean these dishes are not like spaghetti for Italian people. Besides, Kaiseki, Sushi, Yakitori and Unagi are rarely eaten at home, we will rather go to specialized restaurants if we want to eat them.
Then what do we eat at home normally? If I avoid the dishes with meat, which we, the Japanese, did not eat traditionally, listing up becomes very hard for me and I have to think back at what I ate at my grandmother’s place.
A bowl of rice, miso soup, grilled fish or fish boiled in soy-sauce-based soup, and cooked vegetable. Fresh vegetable was never served but only vegetable pickled in brine or fermented rice bran (Nukazuke). Never salad!!
Among cooked vegetable, I liked Iri-dofu and Goma-yogoshi.
I would like to present these two ordinary dishes of my favorite as examples of real Washoku. Before showing the recipes, I think I should explain what they are. “Iri” of Iri-dofu is a verb which means stir-frying and “dofu” is a famous “tofu”. We can say “Iri-tofu” but it is not easy to pronounce so it is “liaisoned”.
How to make “Iri-dofu”
– Drawn Tofu (Momen Tofu is better than Kinugoshi) well covering it with kitchen paper and putting a weight on it.
– Tear and stir-fry Tofu with sesame oil in a pan for a few minutes.
– Add cut carrots, shiitake mushrooms and green beans (Phaseolus vulgarisin) in a pan and stir-fry. – Add dashi soup (I like shiitake mushrooms one), soy sauce, and mirin and keep stirring until the liquid is gone.
– Add beaten eggs and stir.
– Ready to serve!
It’s quite easy, isn’t it? Maybe I have to add only one more thing to make my recipe clearer. You can use any type of tofu if it is not easy for you to find any in where you live. But if you are in Japan, you may already know that there are two types (and more) of Tofu. They are classified into two groups depending on their smoothness, Kinu and Momen. Kinu means silk and Kinu-goshi tofu is silken Tofu. When silken Tofu is made, silk cloth is not used but it is called Kinu because it is smooth as silk. On the other hand, Momen Tofu is made using cotton cloth. It is a bit firmer and rougher than Kinu-goshi tofu but it has richer taste.
What is “Goma-yogoshi”?
“Goma” means sesame and “Yogoshi” means to soil or make something dirty. Normally black sesame is used in Goma-yogoshi so the vegetable becomes black by dressed with black sesame. The concept of this word would be similar to that of Caffe’ macchiato in Italian. (Macchiare means “to stain”.)
How to make “Goma-yogoshi”?
– Boil green vegetable such as spinach, Ingen green beans (Phaseolus vulgarisin), Shungiku (Glebionis coronaria).
– Grind sesame seeds and add sugar and soy sauce.
– Mix the boiled vegetable with grinded sesame seeds.
These two normal Washoku dishes are not so difficult to make. They are simple and taste good. So when you find the right ingredients I would like to recommend you to make them also to enrich your knowledge on Japanese food!
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