Part 2 (Please read Part 1 here. )
Although I started my research hoping to reach at a desired page that can give me information about the origin of Natto, my “Internet Surfing” was a bumpy one, as many theories hit me like big waves but none of them were definitely certain. I was at a loss and my surfing board was getting tired, even the little shark (Sandy) was barking at me as it was his time to go for a walk…. ok ok Sandy let’s go out….. After one or two nights, I reached at, or almost got drifted to, an interesting web site of Japanese food history in Edo (It is called Tokyo now) around Edo Era (1603 – 1868) and 101 recipes of dishes were there to see. Yay! I was very glad! Moreover, I saw the dishes were faithfully reproduced based on the original recipes and the photos of the food were very excellent. I got curious to know who are standing behind this web site?? but the answer was easily available at the link “About Us”. I was delighted to read all about the team of very professional people that consist of a chef of Japanese cuisine, an assistant professor of a University teaching food nutrition, a scholar of history, a professional food photographer and publishers. Specially the professional food photographer, Mr. Yoshikatsu Saeki, was the food photographer I have admired for a long time! I did not have any word! He unfortunately passed away in January this year and that made me sad, but here I am again looking at his great works!
While the photos of the 101 dishes were fabulous, the essays written by the University assistant professor were also fantastic. They were detailed and easy to follow, lots of historical fact logically explaining the connection. The part I liked was that she was trying to adopt these old cooking recipes to our daily life and I agree with her that there are many things to learn from the old cooking ways. In one of her essays she wrote about an old cooking book from 1573 which is called “Writings of Cooking (りうりの書）”. The author of this old cook book was a chef employed by a local feudal domain in Morioka district and he wrote recipes and commentary on the local products in the book. It caught my eyes when I read he cooked a soup of a pheasant with natto in March in 1573. It sounds like an odd combination to me but it must have been a feast at that time. But I was glad to find one recipe with natto back in 1573 and satisfied to see Natto having a so long history in our Japanese food culture.
Anyway, this became the start of my time travel in Japanese food, later that same night I found a couple of even older cooking books in Japan. One is called “Cook book of Yamanouchi” from 1497 and the other book is ”Textbook of The Shijo School of the Way of the kitchen knife ” from 1498. The latter book was specially interesting as it tells us a description of the ritual of the kitchen knife method (to cut fish) based on the rules of Shijo Kitchen Knife School, descriptions of their cutting tools and how the fish should be eaten. This book is now considered as an important documentary source to learn the culinery art of Japanese food from the time. There is a description about sashimi in this book and it is recommending people to eat it with wasabi and salt. Hmm… I have never tried sashimi with salt before but maybe we should try it once to see if we agree with them or not….
Now let us bring us back to Edo Era again. It is believed that there were about 1 million people in Edo, which made Edo the largest city in the world (800,000 in London) and the road from Edo to Kyoto was the world’s busiest road at that time. There were ongoing building booms in Edo and demand for strong men who could carry heavy wood lumbers was huge. These men are from agricultural rural areas all over Japan and they streamed to Edo to earn big money. Many of them were single or left their wives and children at home as they were needed to help the old parents at their rice fields and farms. With no wife making his meals every day, he had to eat out very quick fast food in between his heavy work loads. To meet this demand people started to cook food and sell it on the street.
Do you like sushi?
Sushi became very popular during Edo Era. Sushi was also one of the food sold at stands on the street. One of the most popular sushi chef was called Mr. Yohei Hanaya (1799-1858) and he opened his sushi place in 1824. He is said to be the first one who used Wasabi on sushi and created the contemporary style like the sushi we eat now. You can see an oldest illustration of his sushi here. The rice looks a bit larger than now to me but it does look like our sushi today. In a book published in 1852, it is written there were 2 times as many sushi restaurants in Edo as soba restaurants. While soba takes much longer time to prepare, sushi is a very quick food to make. They did not have any electric refrigerator nor freezer at that time but Mr. Yohei Hanaya’s invention and processing techniques of fish (cooked or marinated in vinegar) kept the sushi’s popularity. I read also that tuna was not popular fish at all and that surprised me. Do you like tuna fish? In old days white meat fish was considered as a sophisticated and high class kind, which I think it is still so in Japan, and fatty fish was not a proper fish. I chose a piece of salmon which is a fatty fish for my traditional Japanese breakfast but let’s keep it as nowadays we are recommended to eat it for Omega-3 fatty acids.
Continue to Part 3 about tempura.