In every region, traditional cuisine is passed on down the generations. Gaining knowledge of the cuisine of a particular region requires learning about its history and culture, and in the case of Suo-Oshima Island, which floats in the Seto Inland Sea in the Yamaguchi area, the person teaching us about such flavors is Ms. Yoko Yamane.
Ms. Yamane is pouring chagayu, a gruel made with tea, into a bowl. In Japan, gruel usually brings to mind the white rice gruel eaten if you get a fever. However, the chagayu on this island is a translucent pinkish brown. In olden times it was eaten almost like a staple food in every home, all year round.
“When I was a child, I would eat it everyday. This island has many mountains, but not so much flat ground, right, so we didn’t have much rice and I think by making it into chagayu we could economize.”
Rice was a precious commodity on the island, so chagayu was invented to add even a little bit more volume to each portion. Apparently, a little goes a long way: ”with 2-go measures you can feed a family of 9″.
“As tea was planted on the boundaries of just about every household, the type of tea used for chagayu differs according. The recipe can be also be altered by adding seasonal ingredients. During summer you can add broad beans, and to keep the stomach full for longer, we also often added dumplings made from wheat flour and sweet potatoes, too.”
Ms. Yamane talks about the past while showing me how to make chagayu…
“Some people don’t wash rice, but I wash it 1-2 times before putting it in the pot. Before adding the rice, don’t forget to take out the tea bag. These days we have disposable teabags, but in the olden days we used teabags made from bleached cotton.”
The rice is cooked over a strong fire for 18 minutes, and it looks almost as if the grains are dancing in the water. If you wish to add sweet potato, apparently it’s best to cut round slices without peeling it. The potato softens after being cooked for around 10 minutes with rice.
The chagayu has a warm color. It has the slight of tea and is the perfect dish to start the day. It’s easy to eat, and I think it might just work well for hangovers, too!
The second traditional dish is jinta miso. Rich in fruits of the sea, it’s a miso unique to the island that goes amazingly well with white rice. This time Ms. Yamane used black rock fish, which is often caught on the island, to teach me the recipe.
“Use not only the meat, but also the bones of a fried fish. Be sure to cut the bones using a kitchen knife. It’s easier if you do it first in a mortar.”
“Add some sake and spread it evenly, then add miso in an amount equivalent to the amount of rock fish and mash it together. In springtime, elderly people used to add Japanese pepper sprouts to the dish.”
“At my house, they would mix this with hot water and then pour it on top of rice like chazuke (cooked rice with green tea poured over). It was thick and delicious. I think it was something necessary for a big family, too.”
The fish used for the dish differs according to the community. Possibilities other than black rock fish include pearl-spot chromis and even oysters.
Apparently, the flavour of miso-marinated-pickles also differs according to household. For example some people add sugar to sweeten them.
By mixing it together with miso, the flavor goes through a transformation and the dish turns into jintan miso, a preserved food that stays good for long periods. People in olden times must have made all kinds of efforts to enjoy fish caught during different seasons.
I enjoy the dish in the style of chazuke. With the rich taste of the black rock fish, it has a gentle yet deep flavor. I feel like I could eat just this with a few beverages!
The place where Ms. Yamane taught me these traditional recipes is called Ishinabe Tei. It’s an inn that accepts one group per day. Mr. and Mrs. Miyaji, the owner couple, moved to Suo-Oshima last year from the big city. Soon after the couple arrived on the island, Ms. Yamane taught them how to make chagayu. Nowadays they serve chagayu as breakfast to guests staying at the inn, and it’s loved by children and adults alike.
We spend a happy time in a circle around the chagayu. The region’s flavors that have been enjoyed since olden times are being properly passed onto new emigrants to the island.
These days we can easily get our hands on fruit from distant countries and vegetables outside their usual season. On the other hand, there are also dishes that don’t get eaten anymore. After listening to the stories, I felt the importance of passing on such regional food culture, which allows us to catch a glimpse of history, onto the next and forthcoming generations.
How about heading out on a trip to discover local cuisine filled with the knowledge of previous generations?
Mitsuketa! I found Suo-Oshima Island!
“Sharing the Island Lifestyle”
The “Sharing the Island Lifestyle” courses taught by Ms. Yamane are held on Suo-Oshima Island. Currently, summer course participants are being sought, so how about enjoying some delicious and fun interaction with the islanders?
Check details at the link below:
New link: http://www.town.suo-oshima.lg.jp/news/t2016516-1_2_2_2_2_2.html (Deadlines for courses are June 24, June 30 and July 14)
Enrolling and Inquiries
Suo-Oshima Kurashi Taiken Network Office
Ishinabe Tei is an inn run by Mr. and Mrs. Miyaji on the Suo-Oshima Island. Here you can have a taste of the jinta miso chazuke and chagayu ntroduced above. The pesticide free, organic vegetables, natural local fish, and rice cooked in a stone pot, are also delicious!
Address: 139 Yokomi, Suo-Oshima-cho, Oshima district, Yamaguchi prefecture
Fees: 1 night, 2 meals included JPY12,000/ person (+tax)
Reservations and inquiries:
TEL：070-2354-1478 (Inquiries accepted on business days, 10 AM- 5PM)
The Setouchi Finder Editors
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