Inspiration from Afar
For my second meal of the May 2006 Eat Local Challenge, I took a culinary trip to Japan. It might at first seem strange to go so far during a local challenge, but Japan has a compatible food philosophy, with the foundations including seasonality and simplicity. The non-locality of soybeans–and consequently tofu–creates a large protein gap which can be filled by eggs (an aside about the locality of soy: most soy is produced in the midwestern United States, but how much tofu is made there? I would guess that a tiny fraction of U.S. tofu is made near the farms where the soybeans are grown, for cultural and economic reasons.)
The meal was inspired by Elizabeth Andoh’s cookbook Washoku, which presents a comprehensive kitchen philosophy along with many recipes. In an interview in the SF Chronicle, Elizabeth Andoh explained washoku:
It [washoku] has several meanings. Washoku is written with two characters. The first, “wa,” has two meanings. It can mean indigenous to Japan, so when it is used before another word, it means Japanese. “Shoku,” the other character, means anything that is consumed. So washoku means the food that is indigenous to Japan. Western food would be yoshoku. The second meaning of the “wa” calligraphy is harmony. So washoku is also the harmony of food. If you layer those together, you have the harmony of food that is indigenous to Japan.
Washoku is based on five principles: five colors, five tastes, five ways of cooking, five senses, and five outlooks (e.g., respect the efforts of those who grow, deliver and cook our food). By striving to include the five groups of five in your meals, harmony, balance and healthfulness can be achieved. For a complete description of the five principles, visit Jennifer Maiser’s 2006 post about a dinner in San Francisco honoring Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku book at KQED Food.
My meal consisted of the following dishes (ingredient sources are mapped and listed at the bottom of the post):
- Chard-potato-green garlic soup: I simmered potatoes and green garlic in water until they were soft, then added chopped chard leaves (which came from my tiny backyard garden). At the end I used an immersion blender to make a puree.
- Tokyo-style rolled omelet: eggs mixed with sugar, salt and sake, cooked on a skillet by pouring small portions of the egg mixture onto the pan, letting it cook, then rolling around the previously cooked egg. Not an easy operation. From a recipe in Washoku.
- Seared oyster mushrooms: oyster mushrooms cooked over high heat, garlic, ginger and soy sauce added at the end.
- Slow-simmered snap peas, carrots and leeks: vegetables slowly simmered in a stock made of water, soy sauce, sake, and kombu seaweed. Based on a recipe in Washoku.
- Steamed short-grain white rice
- Pickled radishes: radishes soaked in a mixture of rice vinegar, sake, kombu, and sugar. From a recipe in Washoku.
I thoroughly enjoyed everything, especially the oyster mushrooms and simmered vegetables. And how did I do on the five washoku principles?
- Five colors: red (radishes), green (snap peas, chard), white (rice), black (mushrooms), and yellow (egg, carrots).
- Five tastes: I had sour, sweet, salty, but not much in the line of spicy or bitter.
- Five ways of cooking: searing (mushrooms), simmering (carrot-snap pea dish), raw (radishes), steaming (rice), sauteing (egg).
- Five senses: sound (the crunch of the vegetables), sight (the variety of colors), smell (the mushrooms were intensely aromatic), touch (crunch again, and the smoothness of the soup), and taste (everything).
- Five outlooks: more of a mindset than something you can check off.
All in all, it was a good start to learning a new cooking philosophy.
1. Vacaville (37 mi), Solano Mushrooms: oyster mushrooms
2. Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm: eggs
3. Guinda (67 mi), Riverdog Farm: snap peas, garlic, green garlic, potatoes
4. Winters (50 mi), Terra Firma Farm: carrots
5. Sacramento (70 mi), Bariani: olive oil.
6. San Juan Batista (84 mi), Happy Boy Farms: radishes
7. South Dos Palos (105 mi), Koda Farms: rice
8. Clovis (155 mi), Vong Farms: ginger root
9. Mendocino (130 mi), Seabreeze Sea Vegetables: kombu seaweed
The non-locality of tofu and miso — two of the soybean-based foundations of Japanese cooking — create a large gap in the Northern California local pantry. The protein gap can be filled by eggs, but the flavors and textures provided by miso and tofu are irreplaceable. Miso, in particular, is a very distinctive product with uses in soups, sauces, and stews. Most soybeans are grown in the midwestern United States, but how much tofu is made there? I would guess not much. It is possible that not much tofu is made near soybean farms for cultural (Midwesterners aren’t big fans of tofu) and economic reasons (shipping perishable blocks that are 50% water is expensive). The tofu I usually buy in the grocery store is made in Sacramento, San Jose or San Francisco using dried Midwestern soybeans.