B-kyu Gurume: Akumaki from Kagoshima!

Hi there, Zo fans!? We hope that you’ve all been well and staying safe and healthy!? We’re back with another B-kyu Gurume post.

We think that after all of the savory goodness we’ve been enjoying, it’s time for a bit of sweetness!

We’re excited to introduce akumaki this month, a unique dish from Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu.

Akumaki is truly unique! It’s made of soaked or steamed mochigome – the glutinous rice used to make mochi – wrapped in bamboo leaves that are tied into packets with palm leaf strings.

The packets are boiled in lye, which is a mixture of water and charcoal ash. After a few hours, the rice inside the packets is cooked to a smooth, brown, chewy consistency, the perfect base for eating.

The akumaki is drizzled with sweet syrup, regular or brown sugar, or even kinako, a roasted soybean flour that has a pleasantly sweet taste and powdery texture. It usually takes two days to make akumaki, with the first day focused on preparing the ingredients and leaves, and the second day actually cooking the packets. The end result is worth it!

Amazing, right?

Many Asian cultures have dishes boiled or steamed in leaves, such as Indian panki or Thai-style baked fish, and this Japanese dish is part of that tradition albeit with a unique twist.? Unlike the mentioned Indian and Thai dishes, Akumaki, is more sweet as opposed to savory.

Traditionally, the two leaves used to make this dish are bamboo, for cooking, and palm for tying.? Today, akumaki is still made with palm leaves, but modern conveniences like cooking string or twine are easier to use for tying the packets.

Even more interesting than the ingredients is the legend surrounding the origins of akumaki. Legend says that akumaki was given to boys who were training to be samurai soldiers during the 16th century. The boys were treated to these sweets which were easy to make, transport and preserve. Lovely how something sweet was given to warriors!

Today, akumaki isn’t usually made at home but it’s still part of a culture treating children to sweetly delicious goodies. Most often, it is served as part of the Children’s Day tradition, which used to be celebrated as Boys Day, in May. As a regional delicacy, it’s definitely part of our favorite B-kyu gurume lineup!

Have you had akumaki before? If so, share your story with us and be sure to tag us using our hashtag #zojirushiamerica on Instagram!

B-kyu Gurume: Suttate Udon from Kawajima!

Are you still craving Utsunomiya gyoza? from our B-kyu gurume post last month? Well, don’t worry because we’ve got an amazing new dish this month – suttate udon – and after you read all about it, you’ll be craving this dish, too!

Suttate udon hails from Kawajima in Saitama Prefecture, an area just north of Tokyo.

Kawajima is a fertile plain banded by the Ichino, Arakawa, Iruma and Toki Rivers. It’s known for its beautiful landscape and rice, tea and sesame farms. In this area, each season is exaggerated – cold weather is icy, rains are torrential and hot weather is sweltering.

It’s during the hot weather months that Kawajima’s signature B-kyu gurume dish – suttate udon – is popular. The dish consists of fresh, bouncy udon noodles dipped into a suttate dipping sauce. The sauce is what makes it special! Suttate sauce is made with freshly ground ingredients, often prepared at the table. Sesame seeds are ground in a suribachi using a surikogi, or a Japanese-style mortar and pestle. Once the sesame seeds are finely ground and fragrant, miso , thinly sliced cucumbers, finely chopped onions, aromatics and herbs such as ginger and shiso leaves are added to the mix and pounded to form a paste. And to the paste… cold, cold water…perfectly ready to dip in udon noodles!

Hungry yet?

Suttate udon has a beloved history in the Kawajima region. The wheat for the udon noodles and sesame for the sauce were locally cultivated. The nutrients in the ingredients were replenishing. And the cold dish was eaten during the hot summer months by local farmers to beat heat exhaustion from their labor. Inexpensive and locally-produced, suttate udon was almost exclusively prepared at home, with the sauce originally made with just cold water, miso and ground sesame. Even the name is local term, a slurred form of suritate, which means “freshly mashed.”

In 2008, the Kawajima Chamber of Commerce wanted to enter suttate udon in the 4th Annual Saitama Local Street Food Championship. They asked a local chef and restauranteur, Koji Adachi, to come up a new recipe. And his recipe for using dashi in the sauce instead of cold water made all the difference. The dish won fourth place in the competition, becoming an established B-kyu gurume favorite!

After the competition, word of suttate udon spread around Saitama Prefecture and of course, to the rest of Japan.

We love udon noodles, and make the dough in our breadmakers. They’re so wonderful to eat and we hope you try them with homemade suttate sauce!

And as always, share your photos with us on Instagram!

B-kyu Gurume: Utsunomiya Gyoza!

Hi, Zo fans!? Welcome back to another B-kyu Gurume blog post!? Today, we’re featuring the beautiful city of Utsunomiya and its delicious cuisine.

Utsunomiya is a city in Tochigi Prefecture, just a bit north of Tokyo.

It’s gorgeous, charming, and home of juicy Utsunomiya?gyoza.? Yup.? Those fantastic Japanese dumplings that are oh-so-delicious steamed, pan-fried, boiled, and even deep fried.? We’re checking out Utsunomiya?gyoza this month, and promise that by the end of this post, you’ll want to cook up a batch yourself!

Utsunomiya City became the home of?gyoza through a few quirks of historical fate combined with concerted effort by city businesses and associations.? Utsunomiya had a base for an army division that previously operated in north-east China and brought back?gyoza forbearers, Chinese?jiaozi?dumplings.? Then the?jiaozi dumplings were “Japanized” and made into the softer, smaller gyoza we know and love today.

Well, it turned out that?gyoza?were great to eat no matter the season!? In cold weather,?gyoza were comforting boiler and served with a broth.? In hot weather, pan-fried with a dipping sauce and a cold beer was the way to go.? And this worked out perfectly in landlocked Utsunomiya City, which experiences both weather extremes.? Gyoza became extremely popular in the city, becoming a local staple and economic driver.

These?gyoza?helped revitalize the city when the other economic pillar collapsed. During the late 1980’s, Utsunomiya City was known as a place to mine oya stone, a beautiful stone quarried from deep in the earth and used for buildings all over Japan. A quarry cave collapsed in 1989, effectively depressing the stone industry in Utsunomiya City. City restaurateurs, business associations and the media decided to highlight their regional gourmet cuisine – gyoza – to revitalize the city’s economy.

And luckily, we all benefit from their plan!

Utsunomiya gyoza come in many sizes and with multiple types of fillings. Commonly, they are filled with regionally sourced pork, cabbage, chives, garlic and salt. When combined and finished into shape, Utsunomiya gyoza are steamed, boiled, pan-fried or deep fried to the diner’s liking.

While they are typically served with a dipping sauce, Utsunomiya gyoza are so flavorful that many enthusiasts prefer eating them without any condiments, letting the juice from the filling permeate their taste buds instead…we’re craving some already!

Utsunomiya gyoza can luckily be found all over Japan, thanks to concerted marketing and distribution efforts by leading businesses in Utsunomiya City. And again, we happily benefit from their plan!

We love these dumplings and are always up for making them using our Gourmet Sizzler? Electric Griddle (EA-BDC10). Do you make your own dumplings at home? Share your recipe and tag us with #zojirushi on Instagram!? And don’t forget to let us know Zo fans, how do you like your dumplings?? Steam, boiled, pan-fried, or deep fried?? Let us know in the comments.

B-kyu Gurume: Hachinohe Senbei-jiru

Did you all enjoy our previous?B-kyu Gurume post?? Well, luckily for you we’re exploring more?B-kyu gurume specialties this month, and we know you’ll love our featured dish — Hachinohe?senbei-jiru!

For those who read last month’s blog post, you’ll know that?B-kyu gurume?cuisine is a uniquely Japanese style of gourmet food that uses regionally-sourced, inexpensive, and down-to-earth ingredients.? These dishes are often prepared at mom and pop-type restaurants and?izakaya.? While the food is delicious and appetizing, it is considered “B-class” gourmet, or “B-kyu gurume“, because of its humble origins.

Hachinohe?senbei-jiru originates from the city of Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture in the northern part of Honshu, Japan’s mainland.

It is a hot soup dish that’s perfect for the area’s cold and windy climate.? It consists of a hot soy sauce based broth prepared with fish, meat, or vegetables and Nanbu?senbei,?hard wheat crackers, which are broken into pieced and then boiled in the broth.? Once finished, the soup is topped with chopped scallions before serving.? This dish is simple, yet so delicious and warm for the soul!

Senbei-jiru is considered?B-kyu gurume because of its simple ingredients and interesting regional history.? Meat from chub, pheasant, hare, and crab were traditionally used when preparing the broth for this dish, but today chicken, pork, fish such as cod or canned mackerel, and mushrooms are more commonly used.? The Nanbu?senbei?cracker is made of wheat or buckwheat, which is unique to this region, and then added to the hot broth.? Vegetables or mushrooms are also added to the final product, and?senbei-jiru becomes a complete, hearty, filling meal.

Nanbu?senbei crackers have an interesting and iconic history in this part of Japan, known as the Hachinohe Domain.? The Hachinohe region during the Edo Period (1603-1868 AD) was home to this dish.? Today, this region is comprised of Hachinohe City and the Nanbu area.? During this period, this area had experienced harsh, cold winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean which devastated rice crops.? The lack of rice crops led to many experiencing famines.? Because of this, farmers began growing heartier grains such as wheat and buckwheat, which could withstand the weather.? Foods made from wheat and buckwheat in this area created a regional cuisine culture called “konamon“, with Nanbu?senbei being one of the most famous products.

Nanbu?senbei were made with wheat flour and water, then baked in a round mold until crispy and hard.? When eaten as a snack, Nanbu?senbei were flavored with seeds and nuts, but when used for?senbei-jiru, the crackers were made with just flour, salt, and water.? Once baked, the round cracker is broken into large pieces and added to the broth to make?senbei-jiru.

We love this unique dish, especially at this time of year.? We also have a delicious recipe for a rice-based cracker, Cheese?Senbei on our website.?

Enjoy them as a snack and then get the authentic ingredients to make your own?senbei-jiru.

B-kyu Gurume – Delicious Eats in Japan

We’re ready for the new year, we’re ready to eat some delicious Japanese food!

We’re starting this new year by talking about B-kyu gurume!? Have you all heard of this Japanese cuisine before?

B-kyu gurume is a uniquely Japanese style of “B-class” gourmet food that’s typically prepared in small restaurants, using inexpensive and local ingredients.? It’s typically hearty, filling, and delicious!

B-kyu gurume food is familiar to many people who enjoy Japanese food.? Dishes such as?yakisoba, monjayaki (pictured below), and kushikatsu are common?B-kyu gurume foods.? B-kyu gurume?cuisine uses regionally-sourced, inexpensive, and humble, down-to-earth ingredients.? Dishes are often prepared at mom and pop-type restaurants and?izakaya.? The result of these dishes are comforting, filling, and tasty!

The concept of “B-class” gourmet food originated during the 1980’s in Japan.? With economies booming all over the world, Japanese residents and tourists started to enjoy expensive meals at high-end restaurants.? Meals found at local?izakaya?were considered second rate, earning them a “B-class” rating.? Not so surprisingly, the food was so delicious and appealing to all, that it became considered as gourmet.? When global economies slowed down a decade later, what was considered “B-class” became mainstream.

B-kyu gurume cuisine is also highly regional.? Because of the flagging economic situation during the cuisine’s inception, restaurateurs created dishes that were based on regional tastes using local ingredients to attract diners, eventually popularizing this type of cuisine.

One of the most iconic?B-kyu gurume?dishes is?motsunabe.??Motsunabe is a hotpot dish made of cow or pig offal cooked in a broth flavored with leeks, garlic, chili peppers, and other seasonings.? It is a popular local dish in and around the cities of Fukuoka and Shimonoseki in southern Japan.?Motsunabe?is exemplary of B-kyu gurume?cuisine because it is filling, made from local, inexpensive ingredients, and is highly regional.

Yakisoba, especially in the style found in Fujinomiya in Shizuoka Prefecture, is another flagship?B-kyu gurume?dish.? Fujinomiya?yakisoba is made with chewy lo mien-style noodles, which are made using inexpensive wheat and local spring water from Mt. Fuji,?nikukasu,?a meat residue left after processing lard,?bonito?flakes, and dried mackeral or herring powder.? Along with Fujinomiya?yakisoba, senbei-jiru — a soy-flavored rice cracker soup from Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture is also a favorite B-kyu gurume?food.

Many varieties of Ramen, okonomiyaki, takoyaki and Fukagawa meshi,?or clams with miso broth, are also among the list of?B-kyu?gurume dishes, and you’re sure to find any number of localized, specialty dishes across Japan.

We hope you’ve had?B-kyu gurume dishes before…and if not, we wish you delicious eating as you find some of these dishes in Japan and in the U.S.? Enjoy!