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!

 

Foreign Foods in Japan – Baumkuchen!

We’re ending our year of Foreign Foods in Japan on a sweet note, with a luscious cake that spans the globe: baumkuchen!

Known as “The King of Cakes”, baumkuchen is most notably a German cake. Variations are claimed by other European nations as far back as Ancient Roman times, but the true delicacy of this spit-roasted cake was perfected in Germany. A baumkuchen cake is made with simple ingredients, like flour, butter, eggs and sugar. The beauty of this cake is that it is painstakingly made, with layers upon layers of sweet sponge cake batter roasted on a rotisserie-style spit, each layer cooked until golden and delicious.

Traditional baumkuchen were made over charcoal or open flames. The base layer was coated on the spit, cooked all the way through and then coated with another layer, which in turn was cooked over the heat. The process was repeated up to 20 times, resulting in golden lines between each layer of cake. The overall effect was similar to the growth rings found in tree trunks, hence the name baumkuchen, which literally translates to “tree cake”. This tree cake, inspired by German forests and open-flamed cooking methods, was transplanted to Japan!

Baumkuchen was first introduced in Japan during World War I. The Japanese Army captured a German expat named Karl Juchheim, who owned a pastry shop while living in Tsingtao, China, during the war. He was interred along with other Germans in Ninoshima Island of Hiroshima Prefecture. In 1919, an exhibition of commercial goods made by the prisoners of the camp was hosted by the Japanese, and Juchheim created his famous baumkuchen cake in a show of German pride for the exhibition. Needless to say, the cake was a smashing hit! Following the end of the war, Juchheim stayed in Japan and opened his eponymous shop. Known as a Master Baker or “Meister”, Juchheim offered the cake to an avid Japanese market.

Today, baumkuchen is prized all over the world. The cake is made in specialized ovens instead of over an open flame and found in specialty bakeries in Japan. The ovens are so prized that the first one was only recently sold in the United States!

In Japan, baumkuchen is a popular return gift at weddings, not only because of its lovely ring shape – which symbolizes love and adoration – but also because of its intricacy and fancy preparation. The ring pattern and light sweetness of the cake make it a perennial favorite, and we hope that the same sweetness and light follow you into 2020! Happy New Year!

Foreign Foods in Japan –
Piroshiki!

So many of our Foreign Foods in Japan have come from Europe, the US and China, so this month we’re finally focusing on Japan’s neighbor to the north…Russia!

Piroshiki are hand-held dough pockets filled with various types of fillings. The original dish from Russia is spelled as pirozhki, piroshki or when plural, pirogi or pierogi. In Russia, pirozhki can be found all over the place, made at home, in restaurants and at street food stalls. The Russian version is commonly filled with meat, vegetables, cheese and infrequently fish, when savory, or with fruit and jam when sweet. The dough is typically a yeast dough, leavened and brushed with egg wash, and the entire pocket is baked in a hot oven…perfect for the cold Russian climate!

Pierogi

In Japan, pirozhki were adapted to Japanese taste and cooking methods. One account states that this dish was introduced to Japan after WWII, and the original Japanese piroshiki were filled with minced onions, boiled eggs and ground beef and deep-fried, instead of baked. Another states that Miyo Nagaya, a Japanese chef from Tokyo, became interested in the cuisine of Russia and Central Asia, and opened a restaurant in Tokyo in 1951, where she modified the Russian dish to Japanese tastes.

Piroshiki

Today, piroshiki can be found at bakeries and restaurants in Japan and frying is still the most common way of preparing the dish. Typical fillings range from ground meat, fish and vegetables such as onions, carrots and shiitake mushrooms. One delicious and unique Japanese-centric filling is cooked and chopped up harusame glass noodles, which add incredible texture and umami to the piroshiki. Some believe that piroshiki were the inspiration for kare-pan or curry pan, which is a beloved Japanese deep-fried dough pocket filled with curry flavored ingredients.

Kare-pan

No matter where you get your piroshiki in Japan, you’re sure to enjoy this hot pocket. Have you had it? Have you made it? Share your favorite recipe with us below!

Foreign Foods in Japan –
Doria!

Dorias are so quintessentially Japanese that we sometimes forget they were once a foreign food introduced into Japanese cuisine!

Many foreign foods were introduced to Japan during the Meiji Era, from 1868-1912, as Japan began its journey towards global modernization. After the First World War, even more foreign influence permeated the country, and foreign-born and trained chefs began introducing new dishes inspired by their homelands yet catering to Japanese tastes. One such dish is the doria. It is said that Saly Weil, a Swiss master chef at the New Grand Hotel in Yokohama, developed the dish in the 1930s. The dish was inspired by classic French gratins and baked Italian casseroles, with signature components including a creamy béchamel sauce and melted cheese.

Instead of being made with potatoes, similar to pommes de terre gratinees, the Japanese doria was made with the local staple: rice. And while European gratins often featured beef or ham, the Japanese version most commonly used seafood. Today, numerous variations exist among Japanese dorias, including ones with vegetables, chicken, mushrooms and a host of other ingredients!

The classic Japanese doria starts with cooked white rice. The rice is typically buttered, and depending on taste seasoned with aromatics such as garlic or herbs such as parsley. To the buttered rice is added seafood such as shrimp, scallops or fish, or chicken or vegetables, such as broccoli and mushrooms. And the entire mixture is then folded into a classic French béchamel sauce, made of butter, flour and milk. The combined ingredients are layered into a baking dish and topped with meltable, creamy cheese, such as parmesan or gruyere. The dish is then baked until the cheese is golden on top.

Dorias are served at Yoshoku restaurants throughout Japan but are also frequently prepared at home for lunch or dinner. Our classic recipe is the Green Peas and Asparagus Doria, which is made using rice cooked in our rice cookers.

Have you made this comforting dish? Try it out…it’ll be great for the coming winter months!