Apr 29, 2010

Cooking Magic or Sake Magic?

It is well known that sake is a useful liquid not just as a beverage but also for cooking and beauty.

A skin lotion containing sake as an ingredient is said to be effective for whitening. But, I am too lazy to make a skin lotion from sake, so I apply it directly to my face. Everyday after washing my face in the morning and after taking a hot bath in the evening in the last winter season, I applied a small amount of sake to my face, and I could keep my face skin moisturized during the winter. Someone might say that sake is too valuable to apply to your face, but much less sake is needed to apply to your face than to drink by yourself.

Sake is also useful for cooking. I'm sure most Japanese have ever eaten asari clams steam steeped in sake, which are quite delicious food. When I had a chance to sample kijoshu (sake whose fermentation process uses already made sake to replace a certain amount of water added to the fermentation mash) before, it occurred to me that adding a small amount of this sake to Chinese fried rice could make delicious Chinese fried rice. Although I have not tried it, I want to make Chinese fried rice by using kijoshu in the future.

Thinking of possibilities of sake as described above, I recently found the Internet site "Cooking Magic!" This site has been established by the Japan Sake Brewers Association in an aim to promote "use of sake," and seems to be a part of the across-the-country campaign "Sake for Every Household," which has started in the late April.

The original bottle designed for the campaign has a triangular shape in cross-section with the capacity of 180 ml. This shape of the bottle is convenient for storing it in your refrigerator in a door pocket between other cylindrical bottles, thus the bottle shape saving the space in the refrigerator.

The site also carries recipes using sake. But, what is especially interesting is the concept of "hitofuri sake" (one-shake sake). According to the site, one shake of sake over various foods increases the savor and flavor of them. Ryorishu, or cooking sake, is something to be added to a sophisticated food as its ingredient while it is being cooked. In contrast, hitofuri sake is used in a way more like seasonings such as soy sauce, salt or pepper, so this is more handy! One shake of sake into the rice cooker before turning on the switch, one shake over cold rice or other foods before nuking them, one shake into an instant cup noodle after adding hot water. These are quite easy ways of using sake. Even I, who do not cook very often, can use sake to improve the taste of food.

So, I have already tried hitofuri sake. Cooked rice packed in a plastic container, which is eaten after heated with a microwave oven. Before nuking it, I poured some sake in the container of the rice. With a glossy appearance, the finished rice tasted nice. However, it smelled somehow like sake. Maybe, I had added too much sake. O.K., I can adjust the amount of sake next time.

Then, I had another try: instant cup noodle. Immediately after pouring hot water, I poured some sake in the cup. When eating this, I felt much alcohol in the soup. I felt like I was being choked with vaporized alcohol, and slightly tipsy. I am afraid that I added too much sake, again. As a sake lover, I tend to add sake more than necessary. However, the taste certainly improved, with enhanced umami compared with seafood noodle I usually eat. If you are not good at alcohol, you can boil sake to completely vaporize alcohol beforehand (be careful since vaporized alcohol may suddenly catch fire), and you can use it for cooking.

I would like to try to apply hitofuri sake to various foods in the future.

Apr 23, 2010

Which to Use a Wine Glass or Ochoko for Drinking Sake

The Japan Times placed a feature article about London-based chef and TV presenter Silvena Rowe on Sunday. (U.K. chef hails sake as 'sexy')

She visited Japan in March and stayed there for two weeks. During her stay, she appeared in a program for Fuji TV. According to The Japan Times' article, the newspaper had an interview with her a few hours before the filming for the program.

She won s Sake Contributor Award in September 2009 at the International Wine Challenge in London. I don't know exactly what type of award this is, but she seems to have been recognized for her contribution to the field of matching sake with Western cuisine.

She insists that, to make the allure of sake understood by Westerners, brewers in Japan need to change the way they serve it. "If I had sake, I wouldn't put it in a small cup. I would put it in a big wine glass and serve it like a beautiful white wine," she says. According to her, you should allow sake to breathe, put it to your nose, swirl it, give it a good swish, see the color, see the texture, and see the coating on the glass! Only after these steps, you will begin to understand sake in a Western way.

Using a wine glass sounds a good idea to enjoy sake with a rich bouquet (especially first aroma note). Also, enough contact with the air may fully extract the taste of sake.

By the way, the per-litter export value of the sake exported to the United States last year was twice or three times higher than those exported to Korea, Taiwan, and China. This could be calculated from the total quantity and total amount of export value of sake exported to each country (I collected the data from an article of "Jokai Times," which reports movement in the sake and other alcoholic beverage industries). So, we can guess that people in the United States (and maybe in European countries) usually drink special designation sake including junmai, ginjo, and daiginjo sake. From this presumption, it may stand to reason that they use big wine glasses for drinking sake.

In a Japanese way, to the contrary, people use the dedicated sake-tasting cup called kikijoko for sake tasting. The cup contains as much as 180 ml of sake. It is a porcelain cup, and is not transparent like a wine glass is. Instead, it has a thick blue co-centric circles on the bottom inside, which are useful for seeing the color and transparency of sake. So, it can be said that the kikijoko is somehow similar to a wine glass in terms of the functionality.

I myself prefer an earthenware ochoko to a wine glass to drink sake. Many of the Japanese have the ability of slurping sake with making noise. Westerners may not be good at drinking sake in this way, and this drinking way may even sound rude for Westerners. But, actually I sip sake by slurping it. With this method, sake is taken into my mouth instantaneously being mixed with the air, so it probably helps the taste of sake fully be extracted.

Apr 20, 2010

Outdoor Sake

The Japanese, in general, tend to do the same thing as the majority does, and it seems people cannot help but go and see cherry blossoms in April. I am no exception, and I already began to think about where to go to view sakura when the flower buds were still small.

However, the famous sakura places such as Ueno Park or Yasukuni Shrine are very crowded and I don't like being in a crowded place. So, I try to think of any good un-crowded place for sakura viewing.

Several years ago, I went for a hike to the Oku-takao area. At that time, I saw some groups of people enjoying sake while admiring cherry blossoms when I passed by the place named "Iccho-daira." I thought this was a good cherry blossom viewing place, and wanted to come here later with bringing some sake with me. Then, two years ago, I visited the place with my hiking friends in the cherry blossom season and had some sake there. It was drizzling and very foggy then. We were trembling from the cold weather. It was a pleasant experience anyhow, but the conditions were far from the best.

This year too, I went for sakura viewing to the same place. It was Sunday, April 18.

Actually, Mt. Takao was awfully crowded. This state of crowdedness can probably be attributed to the appearance of the place in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008. Now, I reclaim a quiet Mt. Takao!

Still, I had had some hope that it would not so crowded at Iccho-daira. However, when I got to Iccho-daira, it turned out the place was crowded too. Anyhow, I could find a vacant bench to sit.

My plan was to prepare warmed sake there and enjoy it under cherry flowers. I boiled some water with a portable outdoor gas stove, place cup sake in the water, and waited for a two or three minutes. Thus, I warmed my sake. It is great fun to enjoy warmed sake outdoors!

It is sometimes very cold at this time of the year outside, so warmed sake is better than cold sake. However, I did not drink sake too much at this time since I had to walk for at least 30 minutes on the mountain trail to go home even if I used the cable car.

At the kiosk of Takosan-guchi Station on Keio Line, I bought this to bring home. This sake is named "Takaosan" (literally Mt. Takao).

Apr 17, 2010

Shishimai Lion Dances on Mountain Top

The shishimai lion dances performed Saturday, March 10, were outstanding. However, it is a pity that I had to leave the place without seeing the final dance "Tachigakari" due to the time of the bus I needed to catch. "Tachigakari" is a dance in which they dance with wielding real Japanese swords. Also, the dances on this day were performed as rehearsal. So, I badly wanted to see the real thing on the nest day, Sunday.

In the afternoon next day, I was driving a car. Of course, I was heading for Mt. Takamizu, for Fudodo of Jofukuin Temple.

Fudodo is located at the point just under the summit of Mt. Takamizu (759 m above the sea level) and can be ascended by car through a twisty mountain road. The mountain road starts at a point just several ten meters before the entrance of the main building of Jofukuin, where the rehearsal was held on Saturday. The mountain road was so narrow that two opposed cars can just manage to pass each other, and it was partly unpaved. But, anyway, the car brought me to the end of the road just in 15 minutes or so. There was a guy working on parking control at about the end of the road, and he told me to park the car on the roadside since the parking lot of the temple was full.

I pulled over the car on the steep slope. While I was searching for good stones to chock the car wheels, I heard high-pitched fifes playing and drums beating, which were as if they were urging me to come to the venue quickly. I hastily looked for stones, found two good-sized, chocked two wheels, and then hurried up the mountain path to Fudodo.

I often climb Mt Takamizu for hiking, and I am familiar with the vicinity of the summit and temple. Usually, I walked for about one hour and half to descend the summit. But, this day I drove from the Nariki district for the first time. Climbing the mountain by car was of course easier than on foot, but anyway being in mountains was refreshing because of clean air.

I climbed up steep stairs with labored breath, went through the temple gate, and came into the yard of Fudodo, where "Mejishigakushi" (hiding of the female lion) was being performed. "Tachigakari" is the next performance and it seemed that I came to the place in good timing. The audience benches were not so crowded as I expected. I felt a little bit hesitant to sit in the front in the audience area for fear that I would block the view of people behind. However, they had decided to sit there leaving front seats vacant after all, so why should I hesitate? I sat on the seat in the front row. The weather at the time was fair and the sunlight was felt rather hot. The climate conditions sweat me, who was not working but just sitting still. I took off the jacket, and then vest. I still felt hot probably because I had rushed to this place on the steep mountain path.

In the front yard of Fudodo, the dance of "Mejishigakushi," which I saw also on the previous day, was being performed. I already had a rough understanding about which part of the dance is most interesting. Actually, I like the scene where Tayu (the great male lion) or Kodayu (the young male lion) tries to make advances to Mejishi (the lioness) to take her away. The lady lion at first assumes an attitude of stubborn refusal, but her mind gradually begins to waver between the two males. I think the movements of the performers in this scene well describe the minds of lovers. Please, see the video below.

In the venue, there are photographers, enthusiastic spectators, chatterers having sweet sake lees drink or cotton candy, and other different types of people. I liked such an easygoing atmosphere as a whole, which is a good point of folklore performing arts. An elderly guy in a good mood grabbing a 1800-ml bottle of local Tokyo sake was hanging around, eagerly offering a drink to people there. Yes, I love it very much that there is local sake wherever a Japanese festival takes place. If I had not been driving, I would have asked him for some.

Well, the time has come finally, and the last long-awaited "Tachigakari" performance started. However, very very unfortunately, it started to rain, and the performance was discontinued. They changed the place of the performance to the hall inside the temple building, a small room. Many parts of the dance were omitted. Since wielding the swords indoors was dangerous, the real swords were replaced with wooden swords. Then, the performance was resumed. But, the real swords and wooden ones were completely different things. You know, you may lose your finger from just light touch on a real sword while you can even grab a wooden sword. So, I thought I need come to see "Tachigakari" next year again.

Today's Sake
Shirokoji-shiyou Junmai Kasen (Tamura Syuzoujou)
Sake from long-established Tamura Syuzoujou located in Fussa City, Tokyo
As the sake name suggests, they use shirokoji (white koji) mold to prepare koji rice, which will be used as a part of the whole amount of koji for making this sake.
In koji preparation process of sake, yellow koji mold is usually used, and white koji is usually used for shochu. Actually, this sake smells somehow like shochu as to the first aroma note. This sake is dry with high acidity and exhibits a too flinty impression at room temperature. However, once this is warmed, roundness in taste emerges.

Apr 11, 2010

Lions go crazy!

I have climbed Mt. Takamizu many times so far. Just below the summit of this mountain, there is Jofukuin Temple Fudo-do (常福院不動堂). The main temple building stands at the foot of the mountain in the Nariki district.

The rehearsal of the shishimai lion dance performance of Mt. Takamizu is held on Saturday, and the performance was dedicated to the Fudo-do on Sunday.

I visited the main temple to see the rehearsal on Saturday. I got on a bus at JR Kabe Station at 10:15 a.m. After the 35-minute bus ride, I got off the bus at the terminal stop Kaminariki. Jofukuin Temple was in a distance of a few-minute walk from there. In the temple yard, they were selling balloons, sweet sake-lees drink, and cotton candy for 0 yen.

The clear high-pitched sounds of bamboo fifes are important elements for shishimai lion dances.

The kimono of the sasara players, who were wearing paper flower ornament on their heads, was black furisode (kimono with long hanging sleeves) with the family emblems at five points. So, they looked very formal and fashionable. They were probably elementary school girls, or even kindergarten pupils. I really loved to see them playing their roles eagerly.

Tayu, or the great lion, has a golden face with two twisted horns, while Kodayu, or the young lion, has a black face with straight horns. The red-faced lion is Mejishi, or the female lion, who has no horn.

This performing art belongs to three-lion dances. In this type of dance, when lions dance very hard, the lions are described as "going crazy."

Still feeling the aftertaste of the wonderful lion dances, I dropped in an izakaya for some good sake. This time, I drank at Oumi in Tachikawa City.

Apr 4, 2010

Happy Kawagoe!

Saturday, friends and I went to Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, after a long absence for viewing sakura blossoms.

In the small river behind the Hikawa Shrine were people enjoying a boat ride. On the river banks, sakura flowers were in full bloom.

We ate lunch with COEDO beer, the beer of Kawagoe.

But, I liked to eat more and to drink sake. I went to the restaurant Furin (風凛), where they have the reputed Kawagoe sake, Kagamiyama (鏡山)!

At Renkeiji Temple, there being held was a kimono contest.

Among the participants was such a nice lady clad in quite sexy kimono. I asked her to pose with me, and she kindly did so.

"Do you care for this mammoth size ramen?"

This is what I bought for myself: Junmai Ginjo Kagamiyama

I frequent this town of Kawagoe, where I really enjoy being. Saturday, I also had a nice day there in Kawagoe. Thank you, Kawagoe City.