Cheruko over at Hokuriku Expat Kitchen sent me Mark Bittman’s New York Times article “We’re Eating Less Meat. Why?” the other day, and we were both pretty excited to see the new term he had coined for people like us: flexitarians, those who eat vegetarian most of the time. That is, my diet is based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. I eat dairy, eggs, and honey. I eat fish a few times a week, but I try to limit my fish intake to domestic, locally caught, fish. (You would be surprised how much of the fish at my grocery store is imported from Norway, Alaska, and Chile even though I live on the sea.) I cook chicken occasionally; pork rarely; and beef, never, though I make exceptions for really good hamburgers and Hida beef if the opportunity presents itself at a restaurant. With meat that I purchase, I try to be as conscientious an omnivore as I can be in Japan.
Unfortunately, most of the domestically raised poultry sold in Ishikawa comes from Miyazaki prefecture–farther away and the prefecture hit hardest by avian flu in the past few years. Interestingly, Ishikawa is a good source of locally-raised pork, which I discovered when I set out to make today’s recipe. Fava beans, sora mame（空豆), are all over Kanazawa right now (though my vegetable almanac says they are a late spring bean), and they really compliment the sweet onions and spicy pork in this stir-fry.
When I visited Shirakawa-go over the long weekend in January, I found Hîragi, a cute restaurant along the snow-covered the vehicle-access road to the lookout point in Ogimachi, Shirakawa-go. I was intrigued, of course, because one of my favorite kanji is 柊 (hîragi), holly, because the radicals mean tree-winter. What sealed the deal was the menu: I wanted to introduce my friends to hôba miso yaki（朴葉味噌焼き), and they wanted to try Hida beef (飛騨牛).
After several trips to the brewpub Beer Belly and to the actual Minoh Brewery, it’s about time I got around to reviewing my absolute favorite beer in Japan: Minoh Beer (箕面ビール), which operates from Minoh, Osaka. Readers of my blog know that I love craft beers, and also that finding a really good dark beer in Japan is a huge challenge.
I found Minoh quite by accident. Last January, I traveled to Osaka and Wakayama on the long weekend in January. My friends joke that I have a Spidey-sense for beer, and, sure enough, I found a stash of Minoh Imperial Stout on the shelf of a random Osaka omiyage shop in Namba. (Sadly, this shop no longer seems to stock the beer, but there are plenty of shops in the area that do.) I’ve had stouts in Japan, and while I enjoy them a lot more than what passes for beer here, only a few really stand out in my mind as beers I would buy again.
This was different. I cracked open my Imperial Stout with my friends when I returned home, and we were all blown away. This was the real deal. This was, hands down, the best stout I have EVER had in Japan. Furthermore, this became one of my favorite stouts ever, Japanese or otherwise.
While working on a translation about osechi ryôri, the Japanese New Year’s meal, today, I came across a passage about how the meal is prepared in advance of the holidays to avoid using the cooking fire. From a practical standpoint, not having to cook while one’s extended family is visiting gives the primary household cook a chance to relax and spend time with the family. The other reason given is that using the kitchen fire during the year-end period makes Kôjin (荒神) the Fire God angry.
The Wada House heart (irori, 囲炉裏) in Shirakawa-go
I suspect this folklore came about because someone in the late Heian Period (794-1185 CE), the era when the custom is said to have originated, accidentally burned down the house during the dead of winter and that this misfortune was attributed to Kôjin’s malice. From another standpoint, in a culture where houses were traditionally made of wood and paper, fire has been a constant worry historically. However, despite my best efforts to observe the customs of semi-secularized Shinto and Buddhism, I was not about to let the kitchen flames go out in my apartment at the year’s end.