Daily Archives: 29 August 2009

Wordcatcher Tales: Biwa masu, suppin

Our most elegant dining experience during our recent visit to Japan (in fact, one of our best ever) was at a kaiseki (“tasting menu”) restaurant in Nagoya that specializes in Kyoto-style haute cuisine. 京加茂 Kyoukamo is tucked away in a residential neighborhood near Hatta station near the western end of the Nagoya Subway Higashiyama line. Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera, but the restaurant has its own blog, which is well illustrated and frequently updated (all in Japanese). So here I’ll just introduce some of the vocabulary I learned there.

琵琶鱒 biwa masu ‘Biwa trout’ (Oncorhynchus masou rhodurus) – Our kaiseki meal was ‘meatless’ in the traditional manner—not vegetarian. There were several courses featuring fish associated with Kyoto summertime cuisine. One consisted of two small slabs of delicate flesh from pike eel (hamo, Muraenesox cinereus) and wintermelon (tougan) in a viscous sauce. The next fish was Biwa trout (biwa masu), native to Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture next to Kyoto. This ‘trout’ is actually a subspecies of the cherry salmon (sakura masu, Oncorhynchus masou). The final fish dish was grilled ayu (‘sweetfish’, Plecoglossus altivelis), served with the customary bluish dipping sauce of tade ‘dyer’s knotweed’ (a secondary source for indigo dye).

The rest of the wintermelon appeared later, forming a tureen for a refreshing cold soup with shrimps, whole tomatoes, and small okras in a drinkable aspic of fish stock and wintermelon flesh, well-flavored with dashi.

すっぴん suppin ‘(going out) without make-up’ – I prefer my sake dry, but Kyoukamo serves only pure, seasonal shiboritate (搾立て ‘freshly pressed’) sake, without carbon filtration, pasteurization, or the addition of alcohol, and made from rice grown without any artificial fertilizers (肥料 hiryou). Our first serving of sake was bottled by a female craft-brewer named Rumiko in Mie prefecture under the label Suppin ‘Without make-up’. The next serving was even sweeter, being made from even more highly polished rice. That’s when we asked about drier sake and got a pleasant and interesting—but unyielding—lesson about sake purity, followed by a sampling of the same sake served warm, which made it taste a good bit drier but also less flavorful. In any case, none of us wanted warm sake, least of all during a Nagoya (or Kyoto) summer. The final serving of sake was sweeter yet, leaving a lingering tingle in the mouth like a dessert wine.

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