Since vegetarians who stay in Tokyo for a longer time will surely not be able to eat out in the few but fancy veggie restaurants every day and some (like me) might also love to rummage local supermarkets and do some experimental cooking, I will present some of the vegetables that are worth to be explored here from time to time. The first one will be Goya - bitter melon (aka bitter gourd). It is an Okinawan speciality and I heard and read that it might be the reason for the longevity of the Okinawans. The other theory is that the extremely strong sake that is so very popular on the southern islands "preserves" the people and let them live long.. However, to clarify this myth is not my intention, but to introduce this healthy and as you can tell by its English name bitter vegetable.
Yes, I know bitter is not quite everyones favorite taste. Most people love sweet or savory, some people still like sour or spicy, but when it comes to bitter there are not many left who think that's mouthwatering.
Except for coffee and maybe grapefruits I can't think of anything bitter to be found in a regular German kitchen. In Japan this is a little different: Matcha, the finest of all green teas, is not only bitter, but also omnipresent, as a drink as well as in chocolate, icecream, pretzels (yesh!), mixed with salt to dip in vegetables, etc.
And there is Goya! And now in the summer month this healthy vegetable, that is high in Vitamin C, is in season and its bitterness is also considered to be refreshing in the heat.
The most famous and popular recipe for it from Okinawa is Goya Champuru. Here in Tokyo it is sometimes served at Okinawan-style izakayas as a snack you have with your drink. Unfortunatly there it comes with pork in it usually, if you can't convince the waiter to bring you one without. I cooked a nice'n'easy veggie version of Goya Champuru at home and had it with rice, but I can also imagine that it is quite nice with some fresh baguette.. for the breadlovers among us.
Here is the recipe, give it a try:
1 clove of garlic
brown sugar, soysauce and pepper
wash and cut the Goya lengthwise, scoop out the soft inner part with the seeds
slice the Goya thinly and fry it with the finely chopped garlic in the sesame oil, deglaze it with a little sweet soysauce or sprinkle some brown sugar on in to milden the bitterness
after 1 minute or so add a some water or veggie stock, but not more than half a cup and let it simmer for a few minutes
meanwhile mash tofu and mix with the egg (you can also cut the Tofu in cubes, like on the photo - but I prefer the "scrambled tofu-egg" variant)and add some soysauce and pepper
add to the Goya in the pan or wok and let it all simmer until the egg congeals
and then: enjoy your meal!
The taste of Goya is considered to be an acquired taste, so maybe it won't be love on the first bite, but don't give up so easily. And don't get distracted by its look... I know a cucumber with heavy acne might not be that appealing, but it is good, believe me ;D