Besides teaching Japanese cuisine in Tokyo's Akasaka district, Naoyuki Yanagihara frequents libraries to read documents from the Edo Period (1603-1867). He believes that studying the originality and ingenuity of his forerunners will show him the path he should take.
"I try to learn the changes in the ingredients and cooking procedures and make use of them today," the 39-year-old cooking expert says.
Myriad cultures bloomed in the Edo Period, including "gaishoku," or eating out.
In "Saikaku Okimiyage," published in 1693, writer Ihara Saikaku notes that he heard through the grapevine that "a teahouse at Kinryuzan ("mountain name" of Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district) recently began serving Nara-style tea rice."
He continues, "Such a convenient eating house does not exist even in 'kamigata’ (Kyoto and Osaka areas)." (The quotes have been translated into English from Shogakukan Library’s modern translation.)
Although the reason remains unclear on why Nara-style tea rice was served in Edo (now Tokyo), Yanagihara thinks that it may have come from people’s devotion to the grand statue of Buddha at Todaiji temple in Nara.
During the war-torn Muromachi Period (1338-1573), part of the statue was burned in a fire.
Although the statue remained unrepaired for years, the Tokugawa Shogunate gave a high priest of Todaiji permission for reconstruction. The priest raised money for the work in Edo as well.
"Many people may have gathered to hear his talks and eaten Nara-style tea rice as a way to seek refuge in the large statue of Buddha," Yanagihara says.
"Ryori Monogatari," a cookbook published in 1643, contains a section titled "Nara-cha," a dish for which tea is brewed and cooked with rice, beans, "kuwai" (threeleaf arrowhead) and roasted chestnuts.
When cooking tea rice, "hojicha" (roasted green tea) or "bancha" (common green tea) is used. The tealeaf is wrapped in a piece of cotton and brewed in a pot where rice is cooked until tender.
In the old days, tea was used as medicine. By adding the nutrient-rich beans and arrowhead, the dish becomes well balanced. It is quite the opposite of modern food full of additives and seasonings and offers a simple, plain flavor.
While serving the rice, Yanagihara murmurs, "The aroma certainly takes me back."
For five years from 2009, Yanagihara served as "inji," a person who prepares meals during the Shuni-e (better known as Omizutori), an annual ceremony held at Todaiji temple. For 14 days starting on March 1, the monks practice asceticism and eat porridge cooked in roasted green tea as late-night meal.
Meals served during the Omizutori ceremony will be introduced in this column next week.
Born in Tokyo in 1979, Yanagihara is heir to Kinsaryu, a school of "kaiseki ryori" (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner), established by his grandfather, Toshio. The school is said to date back to the Edo Period.
Yanagihara studied about fermented food at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and has also worked as a researcher for a soy sauce company. He now teaches Japanese cuisine with his father, Kazunari.
1 cup rice
15 grams tealeaf of hojicha
2 Tbsp azuki beans
Fruit of cape jasmine (kuchinashi)
"Ho" (leaf-shaped part on the rim) of the shoot of giant butterbur (fukinoto)
Tiny rice crackers for tea on rice (ochazuke)
Pour 6 cups water and hojicha tea in pot, brew for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add rinsed rice and cook.
Peel arrowhead, cook in water colored by simmering cape jasmine fruit until thin skewer enters easily.
Cook azuki beans in 1 cup water for about 5 minutes, drain. Cook in another cup water until tender.
When rice has turned into porridge, add salt to taste. Add arrowhead and azuki and warm. Serve in bowl and top with "ho of fukinoto" and rice crackers.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column