B-kyu gurume: Turkish Rice from Nagasaki!

For this month’s (virtual) Japan tour, we are bringing all of you along with us to Nagasaki and introducing you all to one of our favorite indulgences from the region: Turkish Rice.

This dish features three staple components: Neapolitan spaghetti, rice, and meat cutlets. Turkish Rice can typically be customized to satisfy and meet each individual customer’s ideal comfort food order. For example, instead of spaghetti, you can have meat sauce or cream; the rice might be curried pilaf, chicken rice, or even dry; and the cutlets can be pork, chicken, steak, or even hamburger patties (to name a few options).

With so many options available, no wonder it’s considered a “must-eat” when visiting Nagasaki!

At first introduction, it might seem like this recipe would have some roots associated with Turkey, but a closer look into this dish’s origin (and ingredients) confirms that the meal is a total Nagasaki original. In fact, where the name comes from is a mystery to this day, but here are some fun theories we found about its naming.  One theory that attributes the name to historical roots is during Japan’s sakoku period of isolation.  During this time period, the people of Nagasaki were only allowed to trade from Europe through the Dutch. This theory suggested that elements of the dish were brought over during this time period and misattributed to Turkey, which no one has corrected since.  Another theory suggests the three ingredients and their three colors brings the tri-color lunch together to resemble the flag of Turkey, giving the dish its name, as well.  The last theory suggests the root is in geography: with the pilaf origination in India and the Neapolitan in Italy, Turkey’s location in the middle bridges the ingredients together and creates the namesake dish beloved by the region.  How interesting, right?

Whatever the origin, it’s a dish that’s certainly one of our favorite b-kyu gurume recommendations, and one that we hope you definitely indulge in on your next trip to Japan.

If you’re in the middle of planning a trip to Nagasaki right now and want recommendations on where you can try some yourself, here are some places you might want to stop by to order some Turkish Rice for yourself:

The first is Kyushu’s oldest café, Tsuruchan.  Opened in 1925, bask in the historically rich ambience of Tsuruchan and enjoy a plate of Turkish Rice!

What’s your favorite way to eat Turkish Rice? Let us know by sharing your story on social by tagging #Zojirushi on your photos with #zojirushi on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!

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: 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!