Nutritionist Susumu Matsumaru was a bit disappointed with the answers he received to his question posed to elementary school pupils in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward.
"You all know that there are great places and delicious dishes around Japan," he told the children. "What do you like about Tokyo, your hometown?"
Many answers were about "cool" places in Tokyo, such as Shibuya and Ikebukuro.
But none cited food.
"Perhaps because Tokyo is overflowing with things, many children seemed not that interested in food," Matsumaru said. "This was bothering me. At first, they seemed to think it was 'normal’ to leave part of their lunches uneaten."
Since 2009, the 34-year-old nutritionist has been planning the menus for lunches provided by elementary schools in the ward.
Hoping to introduce the pupils to the good taste of school lunches in Tokyo, he did some research and found that a variety of vegetables are produced in Tokyo, including traditional vegetables that have been cultivated since old times.
He contacted the producers and asked them to deliver the vegetables for school lunches.
Matsumaru visited the farmers and helped in weeding and harvesting. He told them he wanted the children to eat traditional vegetables and produce cultivated in Tokyo to raise their awareness of their hometown.
At least once a week, he tries to incorporate Edo-Tokyo vegetables, such as Magome "hanjiro" cucumber and Terajima eggplant, as well as vegetables, milk and eggs produced in Tokyo.
This week’s "sesame-flavored miso soup with salmon and cucumber" is a warm soup inspired by "hiyajiru," a local cold soup from Miyazaki Prefecture.
The use of sliced cucumber and tofu was borrowed from the original recipe. The soup is rich in vegetables, including daikon radish, carrot, green onion, potato and eggplant. The flavors of sesame and miso make the vegetables easy to eat.
At school, Matsumaru has offered the miso soup using Edo-Tokyo vegetables, such as Magome hanjiro cucumber, Terajima eggplant and Nerima daikon radish. Although he chose a traditional potato called "Oine no Tsuruimo," one of the Edo-Tokyo vegetables, in this week’s recipe, any potato available will work.
"Tokyo is not just a bustling town. It offers a rich variety of ingredients and food. I am happy if the school lunches will prompt the children to learn more about Tokyo where they live," Matsumaru said.
800 cc water
150 grams grated daikon radish (water is squeezed out lightly)
1/4 each of green onion (naganegi), carrot and eggplant
1/2 firm tofu (momen type)
2 slices lightly salted (amajio) salmon
2 tsp powdered Japanese dashi stock
1 piece of 5-cm-square dried kelp (kombu)
Seasoning A (2 tsp miso, 1 tsp each of soy sauce, sweet mirin sake, grated white sesame and roasted white sesame, 1/2 tsp sugar)
2 grams shredded nori seaweed
Some "shiraganegi" (fine strips of white part of green onion)
Peel daikon, grate and lightly squeeze out water. Finely slice cucumber. Slice green onion at an angle. Cut carrot into fine strips. Cut eggplant and potato into dices. Drain some water from tofu by placing a weight on it for a while, tear into bite-size pieces.
Cook salmon in fish grill, break meat apart.
Break egg and cook thin omelet sheets. Stack them up, roll and cut into fine strips.
Place water, powdered dashi stock, kelp as well as grated radish, carrot and potato in pot and heat until cooked. Add remaining vegetables, salmon, tofu and cook further. Add Seasoning A and bring to a boil.
Remove kelp, serve in bowl and garnish with julienned egg, strips of white part of green onion and shredded nori.
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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column