Delicacies from Kumamoto

As I said in my last posting, I was travelling in Kansai and Kyushu in the last weeks and of course the local cuisines were (beside climbing a volcano, swimming at a wonderful beach (although I quite often heard I should forget about beaches in Japan, except for I go as far as Okinawa..), strolling through bamboo groves and paddy fields etc) the highlights of my vacation. Especially in Kyoto I had spectacular meals, but today I start with something small but not less delicious. Like everywhere in Japan omiyage (souvenirs) are a big thing in Kumamoto, the lovely city on western Kyushu. And also like everywhere in Japan most of these gifts are edible. Beside all kinds of the ubiquitous sweets filled with sweet beanjam, you can also get quite different specialities in Kumamoto, that I've really never saw somewhere else before. One is karashi renkon: lotus roots (=renkon) generously filled with a mixture of mustard (=karashi) and miso and baked covered with a batter that is also made with mustard. You can buy big pieces of karashi renkon in every supermarket or omiyage shop and cut slices of it that look like a fantastic yellow-beige flower. However, don't trust the harmless looks of it! It is hot! I never had more intensive mustards than Japanese mustards! Karashi renkon feels tangy on your tongue, tickles your nose and can bring tears to your eyes and the sweat to your forehead - but in a wonderful way! It feels like cleaning your pores and refreshing your mind, especially on a hot summerday with more than 35°C, like the days I had in Kumamoto.
The lotus root itself is crisp and tingly and like the thin batter, it only does very little to lessen the sparkling feeling of the smooth mustard-miso-paste that is filled in its naturals holes. You eat this goody just like this with a beer or some other drink, if you can eat hot stuff. If you are not that strong, you can also have it with rice and other vegetables, tofu or whatever you like. I even made myself sandwiches with slices of karashii renkon on it! It tasted great, but I guess people from Kumamoto might be horror-stricken to see this westernized version to eat their wonderful traditional delicacy - so better try this only at home when nobody watches. And please don't tell anybody that it was my idea ;)
Another tidbit from Kumamoto is filled with red bean paste, but it is so different to most other anko-sweets that I want to present it here.
It is ikinari dango, a slightly sweet dumpling stuffed with potato and, as I said, a little anko. It is steamed, so that the "pastry" that covers the potato-anko-filling still has a very dough-like texture, what I like a lot. And unlike many other Japanese sweets the anko does not dominate the taste of the whole dumpling. It was not that much inside and it was not that high on sugar so that the earthy potato flavour comes to the fore. I bought it at a nice little shop where they sold it still warm.. very delicous!
Another speciality from Kumamoto is a kind of stew with all kinds of vegetables and something in it that appears to be somewhat between noodle and dumpling, reminding me a bit of Spätzle. But to be honest: temperatures were to high to eat a steaming hot pot of stew, so I have to admit I did not taste this dish. It looked very good however and if I ever come to Kumamoto during a cooler season I will definitly try it.
Yet another delicacy Kumamoto is famous for I will surely never ever try: basashi - raw horse meat sashimi! There even is a local basashi-themed Hello Kitty phone strap [click]... well, well...

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

Looking at your pictures and blog, seems you're having a great time there! Those foods look interesting - I've never had anything like that, thanks for the info and tips!