Local cuisine in the ‘Pompeii’ of Japan
Ichijodani - Asakura Zen (Fukui City)
November 20th, 2016
by Takeshi Takashima

Pierre Deschamps, the director of the documentary film “Noma My Perfect Storm”, pointed out that the aim of Noma, a two star Michelin restaurant in Copenhagen, is to promote the culture, nature, history and environment of a region “by way of a dish.”

%e2%98%85%e6%9c%9d%e5%80%89%ef%bc%91Many regions in Fukui have their own special cuisines, made with locally produced ingredients, and age-old recipes, These dishes teach us about the culture, nature, history and environment of Fukui, much as Noma teaches others about Copenhagen. One such specialty is Asakura-zen (朝倉膳), a local cuisine in the small town of Ichijodani (一乗谷), 10 kilometers to the southeast of Downtown Fukui.

Ichijodani rests in an elongated valley surrounded by tall mountains. It was once a castle town lorded over by the powerful Yoshikage Asakura (朝倉義景), a warlord of considerable skill. His clan had ruled Ichijodani for 103 years from 1471 to 1574, their vast domain peppered with mountaintop castles, beautifully crafted temples, samurai residences, and craftsmen’s and merchants’ houses. At its height, 10,000 people called Ichijodani home. However, in 1573, the flames of war came to Ichijodani, and almost overnight, it was completely destroyed. For the next 400 years, the secrets of Ichijodani were buried underground, until excavations began in 1967. The most remarkable archaeological find was the ruins of an entire town, spreading out over an area 278 hectares in size. Along a 200-meter-long street, four Japanese gardens and about 23,000 relics were also unearthed. This perfectly preserved “lost town” is commonly referred to as the ‘Pompeii of Japan.’

%e2%98%85%e6%9c%9d%e5%80%89%ef%bc%93Asakura-zen is a local cuisine, consisting of 15 local dishes that reproduce the feast given to the Shogun (将軍), the military ruler of Japan in the old days, who visited Ichijodani in the 16th century. Local female amateur chefs collaboratively cook and serve the 15 dishes. They have inherited the traditional recipes and wisdom that have been passed down from generation to generation. They know well about how to properly prepare the food, including how to eat wildflowers picked from the mountains.

%e2%98%85%e6%9c%9d%e5%80%89%ef%bc%94Soybeans are used in many dishes of Asakura-zen, such as soybean-rice, simmered soybeans and sauce-dressed soybeans with wild vegetables, because they are rich in nutrients and non-perishable. Local people always treat their guests to the utmost even in winter, when Ichijodani is often isolated because of heavy snow. 

%e2%98%85%e6%9c%9d%e5%80%89%ef%bc%95One soybean dish is called Gojiru (呉汁), a soybean-based soup. The recipe calls for the soybeans to soak for three days, mashed for more than one hour, added to miso soup and then boiled. It will fluffily foam like a cappuccino and gently tastes like soy milk.

%e2%98%85%e6%9c%9d%e5%80%89%ef%bc%96Visitors can try Asakura-zen at the local community hall named Ichijo-Furusato-Koryukan (一乗ふるさと交流館). Reservations are needed.  It is nice to take a walk through the ‘lost town’ after enjoying Asakura-zen. Nothing special here but trees, mountains and rivers that have remained for more than 400 years. Can you imagine that a samurai must have seen the same scenery as you see here now?  Use your full senses, creativity and imagination.%e2%98%85%e6%9c%9d%e5%80%89%ef%bc%97










September 21st, 2016

Aging kombu for marvelous umami

Transit Point for Kombu (Tsuruga City)

Have you ever heard of “umami”? Umami (旨味) is the fifth taste (following sweet, sour, salty and bitter), corresponding to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate.  The chemical basis of umami was first uncovered in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a chemist and Tokyo Imperial University professor of Chemistry, and...