The Yomiuri Shimbun This series discusses the present and future of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine. In this installment, we explore Japanese food in connection with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Though more efforts are being made to promote Japanese food to foreign visitors ahead of the sports extravaganza, many tasks remain, including meeting international standards in food safety and diverse needs such as those related to religious belief.
A group of farmers is working to include the traditional Tokyo vegetable Nerima daikon radish — a relatively well-known variety in Japan — in meals prepared for foreign visitors during the Tokyo Olympics.
In 2016, Hideyuki Watado formed a group with other local farmers to study how to ship the traditional vegetable to venues of the 2020 Games.
“We want to see if the vegetable has the potential to be promoted to the rest of the world,” the farmer said.
At present, Watado and his fellow farmers supply Nerima daikon to several Japanese and other restaurants in Tokyo. He said the restaurants are enthusiastic about their produce and rate it highly. The group focuses on processing the radish into dried products.
Nerima daikon has been grown since the Edo period (1603-1867), but today only about 20 farmers in the ward still cultivate it. Since its harvest season is in winter, it is difficult to serve it fresh for the mid-summer event.
“If processed into dried products, Nerima daikon can be used even after the harvest season ends,” Watado said. “Moreover, the drying process enhances the vegetable’s umami flavor, and [dried products] soak up seasonings better.”
The group processed Nerima daikon into dried strips and chunks for an event in January last year in which local residents had the opportunity to sample dishes. Guests were highly impressed by the six meals offered, which included fried eggs with dried daikon strips and a curry-flavored stir-fry with chicken and dried daikon chunks.
Currently, only several tens of kilograms of dried Nerima daikon can be produced per season. This season, the group will study ways of drying the radish with a local agricultural cooperative, Watado said.
“We also aim to increase the number of farmers growing Nerima daikon ahead of 2020, as well as promote our Tokyo vegetable for the domestic and international markets at the Games,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kimio Nonaga, the third-generation owner of Japanese restaurant Nihonbashi Yukari in Tokyo, uses as many ingredients from Tokyo as possible in an attempt to promote Japanese flavors to the rest of the world.
“The Tokyo Games is a golden opportunity to familiarize people with washoku,” the chef said.
Nihonbashi Yukari’s menu includes a chawanmushi steamed egg dish with mozzarella cheese that features the distinctly mild flavor of cheese made from milk produced in Tokyo. Nonaga added the dish as a regular menu item in the belief that traditional meals should be updated to suit the times. According to the chef, cheese goes well with dashi broth.
Nonaga also developed a dish called Edo-ko Pudding using rice and eggs produced in Tokyo. The chef says his experiences have taught him “not to force Japanese flavors on foreigners without modifying them.”
Ahead of the Tokyo Games, top-class chefs of Japanese, Western and Chinese cuisines are motivating each other by sharing information about cooking and learning things outside their areas of expertise, Nonaga said.
“I hope chefs, farmers and companies can work together to offer foreign guests an omotenashi hospitality food experience,” he added.
Preserving culinary culture
The Washoku Association of Japan, headed by Prof. Toru Fushiki of Ryukoku University, is a private sector-driven entity aiming to pass down traditional food culture to the next generation. The association has joined with a council on the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics established by economic organizations and companies to launch a campaign next month that will culminate in “Washoku Day” on Nov. 24. In the campaign, member firms will offer washoku menu items at cafeterias in their head offices and factories, and recipes will be distributed that are easy to prepare at home, such as a miso soup using canned mackerel and vegetables.
Five years have passed since washoku was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. “Eying the Tokyo Games, we will begin full-fledged promotion of Japanese food at home and abroad starting this year,” said Maiko Igarashi, an official of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry tasked with promoting Japan’s food culture. “Washoku is more and more popular overseas, but [Japanese] households tend to shy away from it. We hope to convey the benefits of washoku by, for example, proposing easy-to-cook recipes.”
Sports nutrition recipe: Chicken simmered in black vinegar
Autumn is a good season for sports. Nanako Kikuchi, a nationally registered dietitian at Kanoya Athlete Restaurant in Tokyo — which offers meals based on sports nutrition theory under the supervision of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya (NIFS) — shared a sports nutrition recipe that is easy to prepare at home.
The recipe includes chicken, which is rich in protein. Using a thigh makes the dish filling. Vinegar softens the meat and helps with recovering from fatigue.
Ingredients (serves 1; 159 kcal):
75 grams chicken thigh
½ cup water
10 grams each of renkon lotus root, komatsuna mustard spinach, carrot
1 tsp each of black vinegar, soy sauce, sugar
1. Blanch komatsuna and place in ice water.
2. Cut ingredients into bite-size pieces. Put the chicken, renkon, carrot, seasonings and water in a pot to heat. Simmer the ingredients until the chicken is cooked through.
3. Serve with komatsuna.
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