In Kyoto, as in the rest of Japan, seasonality is fundamental to cuisine. The year is traditionally divided not just into the familiar four seasons, but into 24 seasons, which is further broken down to 72 mini-seasons of about 5 days each. This is a translation from Chef Iida’s book about the 72 seasons of the year and the foods that he recommends to accompany those seasons.
Kiji-hajimete-naku occurs between January 15th and 19th and refers to the season when the call of the pheasant is first heard.
On January 18th, at Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in the city of Yawata in Kyoto prefecture, they celebrate the festival Aoyamasai, and on January 19th, they celebrate Shōnōsai. Aoyamasai, in the Heian era, was an event to prevent the demon Ekijin from entering Kyoto. Prayers are chanted in front of the kami altar which is adorned with sakaki branches from Aoyama, in order to trap the demon. Because the ritual is held late at night, it is also known as Kurayamisai – Festival of Darkness. In the Shōnōsai ritual, the supplicants write their name and age onto a stick that is then burned in the sacred fire, in order to pray for protection from illness and maintain good health in the coming year as well as purification from all defilement.
My recommendation for this season is “steamed duck.” At first, the degree of steaming required is difficult to calculate, but don’t be afraid to try this at home.
Firstly, purchase fresh duck breast meat. Because wild mallard ducks have an unpleasant aroma, it is best to buy aigamo, which is a cross between a mallard and domestic duck. Trim the excess meat and fat from the breasts and remove the thin skin. Holding about 10 bamboo skewers in a bunch in your fist, prick the skin surface of the duck multiple times with the skewers. Next, place the duck, skin side down in a fry pan and fry just until the skin turns golden brown. Quickly rinse the duck with boiling water to remove the excess fat, then place the duck into a pot or baking dish.
Mix sake and mirin in a saucepan and boil to reduce, add shoyu to season. Pour this mixture over the duck, add chopped shinbu (davalia fern) and slices of ginger, seal with a lid, then place the dish in a steamer and steam for 15~18 minutes. Because the amount of steaming required depends on the thickness of the duck meat and the intensity of the steam, push the meat with your fingertip and if it still feels soft like raw meat in the middle, then steam it a little longer. But be careful not to cook it too long or else the meat will be too tough.
When you’ve steamed the duck, take it out of the broth and pierce the edge of the duck with a skewer and some blood should still come out. Return the duck to the broth and let it cool overnight in the refridgerator. The flavour of the meat will permeate the broth and a layer of fat will form on the surface. Carefully remove this layer of fat.
Duck that has been steamed exactly right will be deliciously tender with a beautiful rose pink colour. Some people prefer not to eat the skin of the duck; however, because duck fat actually lowers cholesterol, please don’t hesitate to eat the skin. Serve garnished with plain or seeded mustard.
Source: 『京都料理七十に候』 by 飯田 知史, page 14
Before the Meiji era, at which time Japan adopted the Western calendar, the old calendar was based on the phases of the moon. The full moon always fell on the 15th day of the lunar month, and the full moon of the first month of the year was celebrated as Koshogatsu 小正月. Today in Japan, this festival is often celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month, i.e. January 15th, although this now has no connection to the full moon (what a pity!). Since the Heian era, on the morning of Koshogatsu, a special rice porridge made with red azuki beans and mochi is eaten: In Japanese, this special dish is called azuki-kayu 小豆粥, but in Kyoto it is called azuki-no-okaisan.
At Torin-in, a sub-temple within the Myoshinji temple complex, from the 15th Jan to 31st Jan, you can enjoy visit Torin-in and receive the azuki rice porridge with a beautiful tray of shojin (vegetarian) cuisine, as well as an amulet to take home that is for protection from illness and for the prosperity of the family. (Torin-in is the home of Genbo Nishikawa, about whom I have written before. Details about how to participate in this even are given at the bottom of this post.)
At Torin-in there is a special Buddhist ritual performed on the morning of January 15th, which the public are welcome to join, where a little bit of the azuki-kayu is offered to all the trees in the garden of Torin-in, while sutras are being chanted.
Here is the recipe for azuki-no-okaisan from Kyokarashi, a website dedicated to Kyoto obanzai (home-style cooking)
1. Soak the azuki beans overnight and then rinse.
2. Fill a pot with plenty of water and simmer the beans
3. While the mixture is still hot, transfer it to a thermos flask and leave it overnight
4. Make okayu with the rice.
5. Add boiled mochi to the okayu, then add a suitable quantity of the now-softened azuki beans from the thermos.
6. Add salt to taste
With the leftover beans and water remaining in the flask you can make ozenzai by adding sugar, salt, and grilled mochi
*Not giving clear measurements is very typical of Japanese recipes: there is always leeway given for you to experiment and decide how much of an ingredient is to your own taste. Also, where you live affects the ingredients, especially the quality of your water, so the quantity of ingredients will vary according to where it is grown, how old it is, where you live, etc. It is up to you to refine your own sense of taste. However, that’s all well and good if you are an experienced cook! But if you would like a recipe with more concrete details, you can read about how to make red bean okayu (in English) at Just Bento
Location: Torin-in東林院, within the grounds of Myoshinji
Dates: 15th – 31st January
Time: 11am – 3pm
Cost: 3800 yen (reservations not necessary)
Nearest station: Hanazono on the JR line to Arashiyama
A kaiseki restaurant nearby to Myoshinji temple, in the western part of Kyoto, Hamatoku was established about a hundred years ago. The focus of their cuisine is seasonality and bringing beauty to all aspects of the preparation and serving of the meals. Their special Wajima lacquer dishes, made especially in Kanazawa, are inscribed with images from the Tale of Genji. There are 38 different scenes and the dishes are carefully matched to the season and type of food.
Hamatoku offers a special New Year cuisine (osechi-ryori) that you can order and eat in your own home.
Included in the 28 different foods that are in the bento are some special traditional New Year treats:
Price range: Lunch from 8000 yen; dinner from 9500 yen
(No credit card facility)
In this blog Matsunaga-sensei talks about the Kankakuni Ceremony and the art of decorative garnishing [mukimono] in Kyoto cuisine.
On November 8th, a ceremony is performed to honour the poet and playwright Isamu Yoshii (1886-1960), who was a much-loved patron of Gion. Just near to the Tatsumi Bridge that crosses the Shirokawa River in Gion, the maiko and geisha from this area offer white chrysanthemums at a stone monument that has a poem by Isamu engraved on it, and later there is a reception where matcha and soba are served. This natural stone monument was erected to celebrate Yoshii Isamu’s 70th birthday on the 8th of November, 1955. The name of the ceremony “Kanikakuni” translates as “no matter what happens” and comes from the first line of Isamu’s poem that is carved into the rock:
No matter what happens
I yearn for Gion
Even when I sleep
The sound of water
Flows beneath my pillow
Here is a video of the Kanikakuni Ceremony (note the cacophany of cameras!)
Chrysanthemums are in season now, and I am reminded of the way that we carve vegetables into decorative shapes that include the chrysanthemum. In Kyoto cuisine, we always carve the yam in a hexagonal shape and we always carve the lotus root in the shape of a stylised chrysanthemum, but an autumn favourite is to carve the large Kyoto variety of turnip – shogoin-kabu – into a chrysanthemum (see recipe and video in the following blog). If you say that you are able to carve these kinds of decorations, it’s another way of saying that you’ve attained proficiency in handling a knife. In this industry, mastering the knife is the absolute foundation of the art of cooking. My eldest daughter, Kanae Yamamoto, is the head teacher of the elementary class at our cooking school, and watching the way the light glints off the blade of the knife as she deftly and swiftly carves these vegetables, I call her the “Carving Maestro”!
Here is an interesting short video on another carving master, making a chrysanthemum from a daikon radish. What wonderful knife skills!
Kikunoi’s Chef Murata talks about the foodways of Otsukimi, the celebration of the Harvest Moon, followed by a typical kaiseki offering at Kikunoi for September.
September is the month of Otsukimi, celebrating the Harvest Moon. Personally, though, I love to watch not only the full moon, but all the phases of the moon as it waxes and wanes through the month. It’s typical to make offerings to the moon in the form of tsukimi-dango [mochi dumplings shaped like a full moon], as well as chestnuts and satoimo [small taro] and other autumn vegetables. However, since olden times, in Kyoto, the tsukimi-dango are made in the shape of the satoimo and then covered with koshian [adzuki bean paste]. Throughout September, we decorate the entry to Kikunoi with these seasonal offerings, but sadly we can’t actually see the rising full moon from here, so I put up a scroll that shows the full moon instead. For the principle dish [hassun] of the kaiseki meal this month I want to evoke the sense of watching the full moon from a little boat on the lake, with the moon reflected on the surface of the water and the autumn leaves floating by, and as you look towards the shoreline, you can see the pampas grass gently swaying. I want to give the feeling of an evening vista in autumn.
1) Sea bream chrysanthemum sushi (鯛菊花寿司 tai kikka sushi)
Sushi rice mixed with chrysanthemum petals and yuzu, wrapped with lightly vinegared sea bream to form the shape of a chrysanthemum flower
2) Hamo eel and burdock roll (鱧八幡巻き hamo yawata-maki)
Grilled hamo eel wrapped around simmered burdock [gobo]
3) Prawn matsukaze (海老松風 ebi matsukaze)
Minced kuruma prawns mixed with egg and seasonings and baked in the oven and then sprinkled with poppy seeds
4) Baked wrapped chestnuts (焼き目栗茶巾 yakime kuri chakin)
Chestnuts wrapped in a tea-towel and baked in the oven
5) Ginko sweet potato (いちょう芋 ginnan imo)
Sweet potato formed into the shape of a ginko leaf and deep fried
6) Glass shrimp in Shaoxing wine with trout roe (ガラサ海老老酒漬けのすだち釜・鱒の子 garasa ebi raochu-dzuke no sudachi kama, masu no ko)
Glass shrimp are small shrimp harvested in Akashi. The live shrimp are soaked in Shaoxing wine then placed in a sudachi cup and topped with trout roe
7) Salted ginkgo nuts (塩粉吹き銀杏 shio kofuki ginnan)
Ginkgo nuts dusted with fine salt and roasted
8) Somen pine needles (松葉素麺 matsuba somen)
Green tea fine noodles deep-fried to look like pine needles
Kyoto is famous not only for its traditional Kyoryori gourmet cuisine, but also for its sweets (okashi). Being the cultural centre for the tea ceremony, it has also developed as a centre for traditional tea ceremony sweets. Konpeitō (derived from the Portuguese word “confeito”) is not exactly a special tea ceremony sweet, but Kyoto is famous for this simple sugar candy. Here is a video about how konpeitō has been made at the Ryokujuan Shimizu store since 1847. The translation follows underneath.
Narrator: Ryokujuan Shimizu is a Kyoto traditional shop that makes konpeitō.
Reporter: I’m being lured in by the sweet smell… Ah, here it is.
Ikuko Shimizu (managing director): Please come in.
Reporter: Thank you. Wow – as soon as you step into the room the sweet smell really hits you!
Ikuko Shimizu: That’s right! In summer it’s get to more than 50 degrees in here.
Reporter: 50 degrees!
Ikuko Shimizu: Yes, for the workers its a pretty tough job.
Reporter: What’s the flavour of this one?
Yasuhiro Shimizu (5th generation head of Ryokujuan Shimizu): This one’s ume-shu [plum wine]
Yasuhiro Shimizu: That’s right. Here, you keep adding sugar syrup and as the moisture evaporates, the sugar forms crystals which creates the candy. In the drum, the temperature is about what you’d need to cook a steak – about 200 degrees.
Reporter: About 200 degrees?
Yasuhiro Shimizu: And so as the moisture evaporates, only the sugar crystals remain, which is how the candy is produced.
Narrator: It takes considerable time and effort to make konpeitō. The process starts with crushed mochi rice granules, upon which sugar syrup is basted many times over and over again for about two weeks, gradually growing bigger until they reach the desired size. At Ryokujuan Shimizu, the finished product is so imbued with originality that they have created truly unique kinds of konpeitō. They have recently created a cider-flavoured konpeitō. In summer, there is mango and coconut, and in autumn there is roasted chestnut and black soybean flavoured konpeitō. Ryokujuan Shimizu is constantly creating all kinds of interesting flavours that complement the season.
Yasuhiro Shimizu: To produce the distinctive candy burrs of konpeitō, depends on four factors: the speed of the drum, the angle of drum, the density of the syrup, and the degree of heat. If these conditions are not met exactly, then the characteristic burr shape won’t occur. The sound of the falling konpeitō is like the sound of heavily falling rain. But you have to be able to hear the slightest change in that sound. It’s like when you’re raising a child, you know when your baby isn’t feeling well or is hungry or needs a nappy change, without having to say anything. And so it’s just the same with the slight changes in the sound of the falling konpeitō that shows you it wants the temperature increased a little or it wants the drum speed slowed, and so on.
Narrator: The makers of this candy certainly put in a great effort, one by one creating each konpeitō with care and attention.
Reporter: Keep it up! <laughter> Well, it’s so hot here! But it’s great – so delicious and such fun! Thank you!
Narrator: Even though it’s a traditional candy, it’s new. And that’s rather like the town of Kyoto itself.