In rural areas around Kyoto’s town, in the backwoods, wild animals are still enjoyed. The meat of boar, venison, and bear are still eaten frequently in the winter. Its said, “in a sukiyaki style”, named after the spade it was cooked on, a myth or folklore, I read it on the net.
The fatty meat of wild boar is sliced thinly, in the shape of an elegant flower, “it must look good to taste good”, and “when it looks good, it tastes better”. The presentation of ingredients, the suppleness of the soup, the flavor of which develops and deepens as the ingredients simmer – this is what Japans all about.
The dashi stock for the soup, it sits over the sunken hearth, the “irori”, the traditional Japanese place where cooking was done. Once a standard feature in rural Japanese homes, the irori is essentially a sunken fireplace. The customs of daily life in the countryside have passed down many important elements of traditional wisdom from which there is much to learn.
Mesubim, the irori played an essential role in the daily rural lifestyle as the gathering place where meals were prepared, conversations held and food consumed; it still endures as a part of modern Japanese life, a reminder of how an earlier age flourished.
Most old farmhouses in northeastern Japan featured a spacious room with a wooden floor known as the “itanoma” as well as earthen-floored areas called “doma” where work could be done indoors. More than 10 people could easily gather near the irori hearth, while on the pot’s hook would hang an iron pot kept simmering over the fire, filled with a delicious stew of ingredients boiled together in large quantity.
Food gathered or harvested only during the very brief time that it was in season. The self-sufficient lifestyle of the mountain people demanded that they preserve and store large quantities of food for the cold months through drying, salting and fermentation.
Miso, its rich salt and protein content, it was considered vital. The liquid called tamari that was drained off in the process of fermenting the miso was the prototype for soy sauce.
Saikyo Miso a Kyoto speciality is known for its generous amount of rice malt, its sweetness due to its low sodium, and its beautiful light beige colour. It was said, it has been a valuable part of the Imperial Palace’s soul, used in ceremonies, it has been developed along with the food culture of Kyoto.
The miso is added to the nabe, as it sits over the irori, centre of the room, you feeling the intense glow of heat, warming yourself up quickly. The nabe never moves, like a guarded solider, it cooks on iron spikes over a bed of rice straw ash and traditional kunagi, sawtooth oak charcoal. The taste is sweet and rich, you can enjoy it in the cold winter nights, the cold bellows from the ground, your soul is warmed through and through.
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