Taste of Hida

July 26, 2013 § 3 Comments

It’s been over six months since our Takayama trip.  So much has happened since then.

autumn-leaves

But when I close my eyes, I still see the foliage, still feel the autumn breeze on my face, still taste the beef that melts in the mouth, the savoury sweetness of miso that we’ve come to know so well.  Oh to reminisce.

One of the many highlights of our trip to Hida is the eating.  Located high in the Hida Mountains in the Gifu Prefecture, Takayama was kept fairly isolated during the old days allowing it to develop its own culture. Land-locked, they depend a lot on mountains and rivers for ingredients, taking inspiration but veering away from the cuisines of Tokyo or Kyoto.

quaint-toen-takayama

If you’re looking for quaint towns, a wealth of excellent street foods and sake, a unique way of enjoying miso dishes, and different melt in you mouth beef dishes, then you must go to Takayama.

Along with their carpentry, lacquerware, and pottery works, Takayama is likewise known for its local cuisine. I truly enjoyed the food in Hida.

soft-serve

There were small shops, and stalls of food, from their famous dango balls to soft serve green tea ice creams everywhere we went.

anmitsu

And the mochi.  Oh the mochi.

One of the popular street foods, in this part of Japan, is Mitarashi Dango, little mochi (sweet dumplings made of rice flour) balls on bamboo skewers, dipped in a mixture of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce then grilled.

mitarashi-dango

The chewy dumplings glazed with the sweet soy mix lets out a slightly burnt fragrance that is addicting, tempting me at every corner.

The unique combination of Hida’s landscape and climate produces excellent buckwheat and local soba noodle shops are all over Hida using the buckwheat flour to make their noodles.  Locals love their soba paired with sake.

hida-soba-with-mountain-vegetablesZaru Soba with edible wild plants

These handmade noodles are served hot in miso broth, a favorite during winter or cold (zaru soba) dipped in a light soy broth during summer time – hot or cold, the earthy flavor and the firmness of the noodles always shines through.

And the beef.  Holding its own against Kobe and Matsuzaka is the pride of Takayama.

Butcher

We tried it in various ways, and I can’t emphasize enough how satisfying those meals were.

hisa-beef-with-hoba-miso

One distinctly local and considered Hida’s specialty is Hida beef cooked with another of Hida’s specialty, Hoba Miso.  A plate of sliced raw beef is cooked at the table.  On a ceramic brazier a hoba (magnolia) leaf topped with Hida’s special miso, the beef cooked over it.  The miso added another layer of subtle fermented bean flavor.  But what doesn’t go well with miso anyway?

This special miso is one thing I bought to take home with me.

hoba-miso

Savory miso paste mixed with leeks, shiitake mushrooms, and pickles placed on dried hoba leaf then heated over a charcoal fire – simply divine over plain rice.

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Missing Spain

July 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

I’ve been remiss, forgive me. This is the real world catching up with me here. It’s been a busy few months since I got back from a month-long trip that started in Casablanca and ended in Madrid with Lisbon, among other cities, in between. And now I am missing the flavors of Spain.

GranadaGranada

SevilleSeville

Spain. A country of soaring mountains, beautiful cities, towns and villages, outstanding art and architectures, and a diverse cuisine left by the Moors, Romans and the Greeks.

cochinilloCochinillo before the chopping ritual

dessertCoffee and dessert in a coffee shop in Ronda

Although very familiar to me, its cuisine still managed to leave a lasting impression. One dish that persists three months after our pleasurable acquaintance is Salmorejo, a variation of one of Andalusia’s famous dish, Gazpacho. A close cousin, if you will.

Like gazpacho, it is a cold tomato soup, only thicker. While gazpacho has tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and onion, the vegetable present in Salmorejo is only tomato, and it uses garlic, not onions. Not as popular as gazpacho outside of Cordoba, where this soup originated, it has lately been gaining more recognition in and outside of Spain. Both are excellent summertime dishes, great as a starter or a light meal.

salmorejo

Usually served with hardboiled eggs and Spanish ham (Jamon Serrano or Iberico), I opted for the lighter accompaniment of green grapes and almond, a garnish borrowed from another cold soup, Ajo Blanco.

Salmorejo

Adapted from Food And Wine June 2013 Issue

What You Need:

  • 1 kilo tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups white bread or baguette, crust removed and cubed
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • salt

Garnish:

  • a few seedless green grapes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. roasted almonds, chopped

What You Do:

  1. Scald the tomatoes: Bring to a boil a large pot of salted water. Cut a small cross at the bottom of each tomato. When the water is boiling, add the tomatoes, leave for 30-60 seconds. Remove and immediately place in ice water. The skin will peel right off.
  2. Cut out the cores of the tomatoes. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the bread cubes. Let stand for 15-minutes until the bread is soft.
  3. Transfer the tomato mixture to a food processor. Pulse with the grated garlic and vinegar until smooth. With the machine on, gradually add in the ¼ olive oil. Season with salt.
  4. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour or overnight.
  5. Serve the soup in bowls and garnish with the grapes, almonds and a drizzle of olive oil.

I find that the longer it sits in the fridge, the better the flavors of the ingredients meld. And on a truly hot day, the cold grapes is a burst of refreshing sweetness, combine it with the crunch of the almonds… you know you have a winner here.

For more of Spanish food goodness, check out the article I wrote for Exquise Magazine here.

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