Maybe where you live they’ve been doing this for years, but when I heard it on the radio a couple of days ago it seemed like a neat idea. To help get the Tohoku fishing industry going again, someone thought of taking webcams out on the boats. You can watch the fish actually being caught, put in your order via the internet right then and have them delivered the next day! Talk about instant gratification. Anyway I can imagine some of the more turned-on sushi shops really going for this.
2012! 4 January, 2012
Happy New Year everyone! There are still some things I wanted to post about in 2011, along with the farm records for November and December, but since it’s now 2011 let’s start off more or less in real time…
T’s nephew and his wife now live here in Nagoya; their new baby is still too small to make the shinkansen journey to Tokyo so T’s sister came here, along with her daughter. Not a bad family gathering, considering we have no kids of our own, and a table to match, with contributions from all concerned. New Year here is just like Christmas in that respect, though the traditional fare is a bit exotic for us Westerners maybe. Personally, a roasted bird with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding would be quite OK, but we had “kazunoko” (salted herring roe), “kamaboko” (fish cake) and “kobumaki” (seaweed rolls). The kobumaki’s not bad, but I can pass on the kazunoko and kamaboko to be honest. There wasn’t any “mochi” (pounded glutinous rice cakes, another New year favourite) but things get better after that: delicious tuna sashimi, and the super-rich “toro” as well, “ikura” salmon roe, tender grilled yellowtail, prawns simmered in a light stock, crab and mushrooms steamed in citrus peel, some Japanese style vegetables, thai style octopus salad, roast beef with horseradish, deep fried water chestnuts with parmesan cheese… Wow, but when there was a bit of space on the table some sushi appeared, followed by something T made: “anago” eel, snapper, ginko nuts and lily roots covered with a foam of grated young turnips and egg white and steamed for 20 minutes or so. Excellent.
The next day after a slow breakfast we headed out to the country, loaded up with leftovers to see us through a couple of days. Yes, it’s pretty cold. Fire up the oil fan heater for a few hours and eventually the floor and walls are no longer ice-cold to the touch. On the third I got a certain amount of work done, disposing of compostable rubbish and pruning a maple tree just in front of the house which had grown much too big. Knowing nothing about it except to do it in the Winter I sawed off a number of big branches, and spent the next couple of hours burning them down to a little pile of ash. Now I’ve just done a google search and found out that maples don’t like having their branches cut too much… I hope it survives.
On the 4th T woke me up at 9:00. It had started snowing quite steadily and if we didn’t get out soon we might get stuck there, or at least have to put on the tyre chains, which is a horrible job. Quick breakfast, hurried packing and on the road by 10:30. It’s a cold 0°C in the hills, but back in tropical Nagoya a much more tolerable 7°C or so. Safe! (But back to work tomorrow.)
In the country, last week,
Min temp -6°C max 6°C
Persimmons 25 November, 2011
Maybe this fruit’s not too well known outside the Far East – it’s about the size of a small apple, bright red-orange and a bit crunchy. (I’m not that crazy about them personally.) There are two kinds: sweet and bitter. The bitter ones are incredibly astringent (tannin) and quite inedible. It feels as if your mouth is being turned inside out. However, if you dry them they miraculously become sweet! The result is something like dried dates or figs. The tree behind our country house is the bitter variety but this year there’s been a huge crop (they produce heavily on alternate years) and Taeko’s been hanging up some of them to make dried persimmons, out on our Nagoya veranda where the washing usually goes. Last time she did that she was eating them every day (they are a bit too sweet for me) and put on 10Kg, so this time she’s giving most of them away to friends and relatives.
Kippers and Custard 16 November, 2011
It’s probably another of those “you’ve been in Japan too long when…” things when you start liking enka. Let’s face it – there’s plenty not to like. The melodies all sound the same, there are usually only two or three chords, the singers get hyper-emotional and the lyrics are mostly about broken love affairs. Still, when you think about it, all that could be said about the Blues, one of my favourite kinds of music since Clapton was reading the Beano on the cover of that John Mayall album. Enka’s another of those hybrid music forms (like reggae, rai, bhangra…), a sort of crossing of Japanese folk tunes with Western instruments, usually lots of keyboards, drums, an orchestra somewhere and a screaming lead guitar in the distance. The singers use the same kind of vocal embellishments you hear in min’yo folk, and some of them are actually quite good, once you get used to the sticky sentimentality of it all.
There’s even an American enka singer called Jero. I think his grandmother’s Japanese, but he’s a real native-English-speaking American, backwards baseball cap and everything. Really good singer though, in perfect Japanese. Now, what I’m getting to is: the other day on the car radio someone put on an enka song sung in English – not by Jero as it turned out, but by a Japanese singer. It’s on Youtube if you want a listen. It’s horrible. Doesn’t work at all. OK there might be some problems with the English translation itself, or possibly with the guy’s pronunciation, though it doesn’t sound that bad, but the basic issue is that enka just sounds wrong in English. Doesn’t work.
It’s the same with food. There are many kinds of soy sauce made all over Asia – Thai light soy and Indonesian sweet kecap manis are delicious, for example – but if you want to eat sashimi, raw fish, then nothing but Japanese soy sauce will work. It will just taste wrong dipped in anything else. Now, I have to agree that Koreans also have good raw fish, eaten with garlic and chilli paste as well as soy sauce, but if you regard that as a separate dish then my case still stands. Also for location. Now that sushi (different from sashimi btw) is popular worldwide there are “sushi restaurants” everywhere. The other week on TV there was a restaurant somewhere in Europe maybe, dark wood panelling, customer sitting at a small marble table being brought sushi on a tray by a dark-suited waiter… NO! NO! That’s ridiculous. You have to eat sushi sitting at a counter in a small place where the man who makes it is standing opposite you choosing the choicest morsels of fish from the glass case between you. Preferably while sipping sake, though beer might be grudgingly permitted.
João Gilberto once said that bossa nova had to be sung in Portuguese. Some things just don’t go.
Farmlog 11th~26th September 2011 5 November, 2011
The first weekend (4th & 5th) we stayed in Nagoya because Daihachi Ryodan had one of our increasingly infrequent gigs, this time in a converted warehouse at a traditional sake brewery where they were putting on what turned out to be a pretty enjoyable event, with market stalls and lots of little kids running around, along with the music. People seemed to enjoy our stuff too, which is always encouraging.
The next day T and I went to a “beer garden” – a sort of Summer tradition here to hit these places, usually on the roof of a building so you get a bit of breeze, decorated with plastic lanterns and full of middle-aged ladies making sure they get their money’s worth of the all-you-can-eat deal usually on offer. It was OK, but run by the wholesale fish market and we expected better things in the food section. Of course beer is beer, and a few mugfulls of well-chilled lager always go down well in the Nagoya humidity.
- A muggy Sunday, but there are already hints of the coming Autumn. The rice is yellow, many fields have already been cut and there is smoke in the air from the burnt leftovers.
- Lots of picnickers by the river.
- A gang of aging bikers – must all be over 50, maybe 60. You don’t hear the “bosozoku” urban bikers so much any more – the roar of dozens of unsilenced exhausts used to be a feature of Summer evenings – but these guys are different, on a tour of the countryside in a sort of Easy Rider thing. Quite quiet and completely unthreatening.
- No typhoon damage out in Gifu, unlike Mie where number 12 hung about for days and dropped huge amounts of water. The hot chillies – habaneros and little “ishigakis” – are doing well this year, but the larger, less hot general-purpose red ones from Malaysia aren’t looking all that lively for some reason. Plenty of goya, and myoga too.
- A nice cool evening with an insect chorus and an almost full moon (the “chu shu no meigetsu”) intermittently visible.
- A beautiful fresh Monday morning gradually warms up as the day moves on.
- Monday evening is equally beautiful – a magnificent harvest moon sees us home, accompanied by crickets.
- Min temp 11°C max 30°C
- Two typhoons bringing up the usual massive amounts of warm moist air from the South… with the usual result of sweaty sticky humidity up here.
- In the supermarket car-park the sun hits you like a hammer. Lettuces are ¥298 each! (over $3) All vegetables are expensive in fact – could it be because of the rain?
- Listening to wonderful Ghanaian Highlife music in the car, I suddenly realise what a privilege it is to be able to enjoy this, which was made by people in another continent, maybe more than 30 years ago.
- Have an early night for once and get up at 8 am to be rewarded with a perfect clear morning. Later it clouded over with more of that humid heat we’ve long come to know and love.
- A bumper habanero harvest. A small brown snake among the plants. There’s only one poisonous species here, and that wasn’t it.
- A thunder shower about 3 pm.
- On the way home the “higanbana” are out – right on time as usual.
- Min temp 19°C max 28°C
- Beautiful Sunday morning, although it clouded over a bit later. Typhoon 15 blew away the Summer and suddenly it’s cool. What a difference a week makes! From sweltering to shivering in a few days. Last Sunday evening a T-shirt was comfortable, but now outside with a long-sleeved shirt and pullover (sweater to you Americans) I was still huddling near the fire.
- There are still a few goya left, but we’re coming to the end of the season. There are lots more habaneros – with any luck the chillies will hold out through October and give us some kind of harvest.
- A visit from the local builder. We want our rotten tatami matting replaced with a wooden floor. Tatami’s very ethnic and cool, but ours was way too old, and full of mould and biting insects. They cost more than 10,000 yen each, and in this house which is only opened up for two days a week new ones would soon go mouldy again, so we figured wood would just be more pleasant. A lot of the supporting timbers under the floor are in bad shape too so a fair amount of work is involved.
- The max. and min. thermometer is broken: the min. marker falls back to the mercury. I’ll try just laying it on its side.
- Min temp ~15°C (guess) max 25°C
Farmlog 7th ~ 29th August 2011 28 September, 2011
- A real Summer day for once: blue sky, summery clouds… and a blazing sun! It’s hot! The first supermarket car-park is scorching in the way only a supermarket car-park can be. The asphalt soaks up the sun so you get grilled from above and below simultaneously.
- But by the time we get to the second supermarket – there are now two on our route – it’s already clouded over and extra humid. The cicadas are hitting a peak.
- This week there are lots of nice fresh vegetables at the ¥100 stall so we stock up for Raffles and for ourselves: long shiny black eggplants and round green ones, various kinds of capsicums, perfect cucumbers and delicious tomatoes. Tomatoes show up less often these days so we’re lucky.
- It’s cool when we leave the car at our house and there’s a chorus of welcome from the cicadas and uguisu. After a bit of work, though, the humidity gets you covered in moisture. Likewise the floor and tatami.
- I had been a bit worried if the deer had got to the chillies, but they were OK. Not, however, the yams, which had had all their leaves eaten off by some animal. Saw a “mamushi” snake while fixing the hole in the netting the leaf-eater had probably come through.
- On Monday there was more fierce hot sun and that humidity again, so it’s hot even in the shade. Half a dozen different insect voices fill in the background.
- Bitten by leeches on wrist and toe. These creatures are affecting our quality of life here. Not in a positive way.
- A baby rabbit appeared round the side of the house.
- Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C
- We took an extra day off this week so we could take in the firework display at our local town on Saturday. This was our Summer Holiday but it was OK actually. Will post some pics of the fireworks soon. Anyway, we’re thinking of a trip somewhere at New Year maybe, when it’s easier to take time off.
- A blazing hot Saturday, as it turned out. This is real summer heat – up to now was just a sort of extended Rainy Season – the humidity’s still too high though.
- Traffic jams everywhere because this is the weekend just before “Obon“, but Nagoya is quiet. We catch some of the traffic on the road out, though.
- The first supermarket car park is a furnace, unbelievable.
- Unpack, a quick snack and it’s time to head down town for the fireworks, armed with fried chicken, “edamame”, beer and non-alcoholic “beer” for T who’s volunteered to drive.
- Sunday is hot too; you can’t spend long in the sun, so do some general pottering about. Take the lid off the compost to try and dry it out a bit. If compost gets too wet, which ours always does, it doesn’t ferment properly and smells pretty bad.
- The yam leaves have been eaten again but the net looks undamaged so it might have been some small animal – a rabbit? Maybe the parents of that baby we saw last week? The grass nearby has been nibbled too, so it could be.
- Late afternoon we’re covered over by black clouds, followed by a good half hour of continuous thunder and lightning, some of it quite close by. It rains hard for a while, then it all goes away, the sky is clear and the temperature drops by an amazing 8°C: almost chilly!
- Dinner under an almost full moon with a splendid insect chorus. Deliciously cool. Aah… having an extra day off makes quite a difference.
- On the radio someone plays a 15 hour special of cover versions of all the beatles’ songs.
- The insect voices are slightly different every day.
- T dries this year’s umeboshi pickles in the sun, then they’ll keep. Perfect hand-made umeboshi sell for over a dollar each! T’s can compete easily for taste, but there might be a couple of spots here and there. Ah well.
- A big black and yellow dragonfly flies into and out of the house.
- Leave early to catch a film in Nagoya – “Tree of Life”, but I was pretty unimpressed.
- Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C
- Sunday is cold and rainy – is this the end of the summer?
- The first “matsutake” mushrooms appear in the supermarket. Once plentiful, these are now an expensive treat, appreciated by Japanese (including T) for the supposedly wonderful aroma. To me, they’re just another mushroom. I like mushrooms for sure, but at 2000 yen each? Yes, that’s over 20 dollars for one mushroom! Anyway, these were from China.
- That evening a long-sleeved shirt was called for, the first time since… May?
- Monday was better with patchy clouds and a fresh breeze, but later slipped back into the familiar mugginess.
- Visited by one red dragonfly. Masses of these will appear over the rice paddies in autumn. Two pigeons show up, probably to check out the sansho berries, but soon leave.
- Regular stream of lorries on our usually quiet road, carrying gravel up and timber down. Are they building another road through the mountains, on some leftover budget?
- Min. temp. 19°C max. 30°C
- We set off in some trepidation – there was very heavy rain during the week and some people were evacuated in a nearby town. Are the chilli plants OK? Is the house OK?
- The Valor (supermarket #1) car park is the usual oven. Inside, rice from Toyama is 40% more than from Miyagi, where they were affected by the nuclear accident. It’s silly really, because this is still last year’s rice…
- The house and chillies are OK – the rain here wasn’t all that bad apparently. Two chilli plants are down and need some support, and there’s a wet patch on the floor in our entrance. You’d swear the roof was leaking, but the ceiling and floor upstairs are perfectly dry. Is it groundwater? No, there’s a two foot deep square pit near the front door – once used to store vegetables – which is dry. It must be condensation when the moist air from outside meets the cold floor surface, but there’s a lot of it!
- Monday breakfast of exotic leftovers. T had made a salad of fried eggplant strips, cucumber, gouda cheese and a handful of “edamame” (fresh soy beans), with an oil and vinegar dressing. Simple colours of brown, green and yellow – no flashy tomatoes or red peppers – I should have taken a photo but I was too concerned with eating it. With a slice of brown bread: delicious. We also had some leftover Inari sushi. This is sushi rice – slightly sweetened and vinegared – in this case mixed with sesame seeds and chopped myoga and stuffed into skins of fried tofu which had been stewed with sweetened soy sauce. The taste is less complicated than it sounds, and also delicious.
- A reconnaissance flight of two red dragonflies checking the place out for the hordes to follow soon. It’s still very hot, but the breeze is hinting of autumn.
- T picks more myoga. I must make Myoga Chicken for Raffles – a seasonal treat!
- Listening to the DPJ leadership elections on the radio. Maehara is the most popular candidate by far, but he doesn’t get on with Ozawa who still has plenty of strings to pull, so the job goes to the more boring Noda.
- Min. temp. 20°C max. 29°C
Myoga 9 September, 2011
This is funny stuff. Myoga is a kind of wild ginger that grows freely around the house with no help from us at all; although it dies down in the winter it’s quite frost resistant and always comes back up. There’s no thick root to speak of though, in spite of being in the ginger family. What is used sometimes in Japanese food are the flowers, or flower buds. These are small and pink, and appear from the ground around August. You should pick them while they’re still buds, before the small yellow flowers start to emerge, which means searching around under the plants in the sticky heat, fighting off leeches and mosquitos, trying to find the buds when they’ve just shown above the ground and are still firm.
Once they’re picked you can slice them and put them in miso soup, add them to pickled eggplant or even put them in fried rice. Myoga has a very special fragrance which is hard to describe – sort of floral and bitter at the same time. It’s quite possible not to like it at first, and too much is definitely on the astringent side, but it’s one of the tastes of summer. Interestingly, there’s a “wild ginger flower” used in Southeast Asian cooking too, called bunga kantan in Malay. I was surprised to find one day in Singapore that it tasted almost exactly like myoga, although it’s bigger and longer, and the flower that comes from the bud looks quite different. There they sprinkle it on salads or put it in fish curries. It goes especially well with sour flavours like tamarind.
At Raffles we were delighted to have this authentic ingredient at hand, and use the myoga leaves to wrap our steamed “otak otak” spicy fish paste, sometimes make a cucumber and myoga salad and also put it in “myoga chicken” which is on our blackboard right now. This is an adaptation of a Penang dish called “ayam tumis” which also contains lemon grass, galangal, fresh turmeric, shrimp paste and tamarind. I’ve boosted up the myoga content so you can really taste it, and I think it’s pretty good. It looks just like a curry, and you eat it the same way, with rice, but there’s no spice in there which would be found in normal “curry powder”: if you don’t call it a “curry” though, people won’t order it…