"Ryukyu," the leaf stalk of "hasuimo" (colocasia gigantea), is a summer vegetable of Kochi Prefecture. Considering that the Ryukyu Islands are a southern chain that includes Okinawa, one might ask, "Why is ryukyu in Kochi?"
According to legend, it was introduced from Okinawa, and the name took root in Kochi.
Related to the "satoimo" taro, hasuimo grows to 1 to 2 meters tall. The giant leaves could easily cover a person’s head, reminding one of the leaf-turned-umbrella in the Japanese animated film "My Neighbor Totoro."
The leaf stalk is used for cooking. A popular dish is vinegared ryukyu. The crunchy texture and vinegar sauce flavored with yuzu juice create a refreshing dish fit for summer.
Nobuko Ichohara is the 70-year-old president of Towa Okamisan-ichi, a company based in the former Towa village that is now located in Shimanto, Kochi Prefecture.
"Ryukyu is a familiar vegetable that local farmers grow one or two in their field for their own consumption," she says.
On the other hand, ryukyu is a rarity to those outside Kochi Prefecture. People who have relocated to the area for business or marriage have not heard of ryukyu, let alone how to cook it.
The women of Towa Okamisan-ichi offer cooking classes to such people. "We want to increase the number of people with whom we can cook local dishes using local farm produce," Ichohara says.
To draw attention to the area, Ichohara and her colleagues have been holding various events, such as: offering buffets of local dishes at the "michi no eki" (roadside station); organizing rafting tours on the Shimantogawa river; chestnut-picking; and serving good food.
Since the Shimanto area is a more than two-hour drive from central Kochi city, Ichohara stresses that they "must continue to organize events that will draw people specifically to Towa."
Ichohara says a local supporter told her: "I had been thinking the area is losing energy due to the aging population. But I was relieved to see that we still have lots of energy."
To Ichohara, the undertakings are her motivation in life. The slogan that she shares with the main members of the group who are around her age is, "Let’s stick to it for the next 10 years!"
4 leaf stalks of ryukyu (each about 50-cm long)
1 Tbsp yuzu juice
Some "chirimen-jako" (Baby sardines cooked in salt water and dried)
Peel ryukyu. Since it may cause itchiness, use cooking gloves. Cut each stalk in two or three to make it easier to peel. Slice at an angle into 2- to 3-cm pieces.
To remove bitterness, place ryukyu into bowl and add 1/2 Tbsp salt and knead until it softens. Remove salt by immersing in generous amount of water. Squeeze out water.
Add ryukyu, dried sardines, 2.5 Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp vinegar, yuzu juice, 1 tsp soy sauce to bowl and mix. Sprinkle roasted sesame to taste.
Ryukyu is available at vegetable stands or supermarkets in Kochi Prefecture.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column