Japan Eats

Japan Booze Blind: Awamori

John Bailey and Rachael White join host Christopher Pellegrini in blind tasting awamori, Okinawan firewater.

Awamori is a beverage native to Okinawa, the island chain to the south of Japan. It is made from long grain indica rice (usually imported from Thailand) which is washed and soaked before being treated with a black koji mold. Yeast and water are then added to bring about fermentation. Finally, the moromi is heated and distilled. The result is a drink not unlike shochu, with a alcohol content of anywhere between 20 and 40 per cent.

On this episode of Japan Booze Blind, guests Rachael White (producer of the blogs tokyoterrace.com, rachaelwhite.me) and John Bailey (arts journalist, noted Japanophile) blind-taste three very different types of awamori: Donan, Nanko and Sashiba. The show was recorded at Dynamo, a skate themed bar in Koenji.

Thanks to Julien Arnaud for allowing us to film at Dynamo.

Recipe: Goya champuru

It ain’t easy being green

On the face of it, goya isn’t the most appetizing of fruit. With its dark green complexion, prickly texture and bitter taste, it looks like a cross between a cucumber and a durian. Even its English name is less than appealing – ‘bitter gourd’.

But while it may look intimidating and taste bitter uncooked, goya is actually delicious when properly prepared. And it’s easy to remove much of the bitterness. Simply scoop out the seeds and slice into thin pieces. Soak these in water for 10 – 20 minutes and you’re done.

The fruit is said to have a variety of health benefits (it’s high in Vitamin C) and is commonly used in traditional medicines to combat such things as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Goya is a key ingredient in Okinawan cuisine (the name itself is Okinawan – nigauri in Japanese) and goya champaru is the prefecture’s signature dish. Goya champaru is popular elsewhere in Japan, particularly¬†during the summer months.

This preparation is for a very simple version of the dish. To add volume and texture, add a handful of moyashi (bean shoots). You can also add pickled ginger as a garnish.

Goya champuru

Goya champuru

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 goya
  • 200 to 350 g tofu (momen tofu)
  • 100 to 150 g pork (sliced butabara pork is best)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 5 g kezuribushi

Method

First cut the goya in half and take the seeds out using a tea spoon. These seeds and the white pith around them is very bitter and should be removed carefully. Next, slice the goya into 5 mm slices. Place these into a bowl of iced water for around 10 to 20 minutes (this too is to minimize the bitterness).

While the goya is soaking in the cold water, wrap the tofu with a paper towel and warm it in a microwave for 3 minutes in order to draw the water out of the tofu. Now cut the pork into bite size pieces and mix with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour 1 tablespoon of salad oil into a pan and cook the pork. Strain the water from the goya and as soon as the pieces of pork begin to change color, add the green vegetable to the mix. Cook the pork and goya together for 1 to 2 minutes.

Breaking the tofu into small pieces by hand, add these to the mixture in the pan. Season with a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce. Mix thoroughly, trying not do break the tofu up too much.

Crack the eggs and pour them into the pan, making a circle around the edges of the pan. Cook these slowly. When the egg begins to cook, turn off the gas and pour a dash of sesame oil into the pan.

Serve, placing kezuribushi onto the top of the dish.