At the early hour in Tokyo Station there were already tons of Ekiben in many shops. It says they are open from 0530 AM to attend the hungry travelers who catch early trains. I also became a hungry traveler today and this sight of freshly made Onigiri rice balls was VERY inviting.
There was a big panel of samples of Ekiben on the wall and I was so hungry that even the display of food samples of wax look so yummy. This panel is an overview of their selection and is supposed to help us decide which one to take but it was not serving the purpose for me. The great range of the selection is so impressive, it is making my decision making more impossible. Really, you need to plan much time when you are a foodie traveler in Japan.
A super fast Shinkansen train took me out of Tokyo and when I arrived Shin Aomori station it was snowing. I was on the way to Odate in Akita prefecture which is an inland city and as my train proceeded into the woody inland of the northern part of Akita prefecture, the snow got thicker and it was beautiful.
I came to Odate to meet a very respected Japanese craftman who has been dedicating his life to the beautiful craft of WAPPA. I arrived Odate early enough to allow me a lunch before my appointment with him, it was still snowing outside and the air was bittery cold but it turned out to be the perfect day to enjoy the famous local dish "Kiritanpo".
If you ask a Japanese if they know which prefecture is famous for Kiritanpo, you will probably get AKITA right away from them. Kiritanpo is the well-known signature dish of Akita prefecture and I had not eaten it before.
Actually I have eaten it before, but I am sorry to say it was not my kind of food. It was a sort of food that did not have much taste in it and I really did not get the point why this dish is so famous?? But now I am in the place of Kiritanpo's origin (Odate is the mecca of Kiritanpo) and who can leave Odate without trying Kiritanpo?
I asked a lady who works for the tourist information office in Odate station and she recommended one place. It was a Japanese restaurant in a hotel nearby and she even called and reserved a table for me. It took about 10 minutes for me to walk over to the hotel from the station and amazingly the dish was already ready to serve to me when I arrived the hotel. I think this will never happen in Norway!
To give you my final comment first, this Kiritanpo was amazing. I am so happy I tried it again. It is almost not fair to compare this Kiritanpo with the last disappointing Kiritanpo I had. The difference was so big that I could taste it myself.
"It is the soup", I thought. Then later I had a chance to ask the chef who made it at the hotel and he confirmed the soup plays a big roll in Kiritanpo and it can make a totally different dish. There is a famous local breed of chicken called Hinai Jidori in Akita prefecture and he said the bones make a good soup for Kiritanpo. The meat is also used in the dish and I loved it too but the most important one is the soup.
The lady who was serving in the restaurant joined in our conversation and she said she prefers ordinary chicken meat, but yes she also cook soup with the bones from Hinai Jidori, her butcher sells it for 100 yen a bag. She explained:
Rice was cooked in an electric rice cooker and then was pounded roughly. Use some long skewers (thicker than a chopstick) and form the pounded rice like a frankfurt sausage around the skewers. Fry them on a non stick pan and toast them rightly. Take out the skewer to leave a hole in the middle. Cook them in a pot of soup stock and mirin and soy sauce. Some people like to cook the pounded rice very well in the soup and make them almost very soggy while others love to just warm up in the hot soup and enjoy the sticky texture of the rice.
It was very delicious. The tasteful soup was soaked into them and I really enjoyed my lunch before I spent 2 wonderful hours with Mr. Sasaki at his work shop.
To be continued.
Rie - Bento specialist, Oslo, Norway
Hello, I love to cook and bake and I enjoy making bento everyday. I was one of the finalists at Bento&co’s contest in 2011 and later I joined Bento&co as Bento Specialist. I am living in Norway now but I am originally from Ishikawa in Japan where many of Bento&co’s bento boxes are made. I try to make bentos that are as beautiful as they are delicious, and I like to show you how to add more sparkles in your bento life! - Rie