Takenoko; a taste of spring

Spring is the time to harvest bamboo shoots, or takenoko.

The bamboo plant used to be an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, being used as a building material or as kitchen utensils in the form of chopsticks, food containers, or colanders. Many bamboo tools have been replaced with plastic ones, while takenoko continues to be widely eaten, loved for its crunchy texture and slightly bitter taste.

Here in Kanazawa, the first moso bamboos were cultivated in 1766 and were introduced into the suburbs of the city. Nowadays, the city certifies 15 types of indigenous vegetables as ‘Kaga Yasai’ branded products, one of which is takenoko.

Takenoko is only harvested when the shoots are very young, just after the green tips poke through the soil, which is why they are called takenoko (lit. means ‘child of bamboo’). Takenoko are used in a wide variety of dishes, while takenoko rice, simmered takenoko, and tempura are traditional favorites. Freshly dug ones can be simply sliced and eaten raw.

Despite the fact that many vegetables are grown in greenhouses nowadays to satisfy year-round demand, takenoko are harvested only once a year. It is said that takenoko will sprout from the ground 7-10 days after the cherry trees start to blossom. Both are eagerly anticipated by Japanese people as signs of spring.

Kanazawa Sake: brewed in the heart of winter using a blend of pure water and premium rice

The coldest part of winter with its dancing snowfall is the busiest time of the year for Kanazawa’s sake distilleries. Around this time, each sakagura (sake brewery) in Kanazawa enters its peak season of sake brewing. Ishikawa Prefecture, with its cold winters and heavy snowfall, is perfectly suited to sake brewing and is said to be one of the leading sake regions in Japan. There are many established sakagura in Kanazawa, taking pride in their time-honoured tradition while seeking new and innovative tastes.

Water and sake-rice are the principal ingredients of sake and are key in determining its quality. The nearby Hakusan Mountain range ensures that Kanazawa has an abundant supply of fresh, pure water which is high in minerals and low in iron, making it ideally suited to the cultivation of yeast. Local sake breweries have long used premium sake-rice called Yamada Nishiki, as well as high quality local sake-rice Gohyakumangoku.

Traditionally, sake brewing is overseen by a chief brewer called toji. The breweries in Kanazawa recruit tojifrom the Noto Peninsula but from all over country as well, so that they can compete and learn from each other. Also, the rich culinary traditions in Kanazawa have long supported the sake brewing industry.

Sake has been considered a sacred drink and was believed to exorcise evil spirits. That’s why you often see big casks of sake dedicated to Shinto shrines.

[Sake breweries in Kanazawa]

・Fukumitsuya http://www.fukumitsuya.co.jp/english/index.html (English)

・Yachiya http://www.yachiya-sake.co.jp (Japanese)

・Nakamuraya Shuzo http://www.nakamura-shuzou.co.jp (Japanese)