The little things

Japan’s most visible green beans are eda-mame young soy beans, literally meaning ‘branch beans’. They are served in the pod, as an izakaya accompaniment to beer, especially in the summer. The pods are dusted in salt, which transfers to the beans as you pop them in your mouth between swigs of foamy ale. Don’t eat the pods as I once witnessed a self-proclaimed 'Japan expert' do. I was genuinely concerned the poor lady would choke.

bean beans mame ume bainikuEdamame should not be confused with the thinner, edible mange-tout saya-endo sugar or snow peas, or the larger oranda literally, ‘Holland’s. Both make excellent crunchy aemono, ohitashi and suimono, and are often served in salad.  Saya-endo are also called kinusaya, from the sound made when rubbing the fresh pods together, which is likened to rubbing kinu silk. Saya-ingen string beans should be boiled briefly, then soaked in water again. They are fabulous in tempura.

Bean mame beansKuromame black soy beans are considered a delicacy, and are used in kuromame natto (my homemade version pictured above). The Tamba district of Kyoto Prefecture  is famed for its black beans.

Azuki adzuki beans are primarily used to make sekihan red rice, the celebratory bean and rice combination associated with the girls' festival, and especially a young girl's entry into puberty. They are also the primary ingredient in an, the sweet bean paste that is essential to many wagashi Japanese sweet confections.

Takenoko bamboo shoots arrived in the 16th century from China, and are extensively used in nimono, soups, or as the fabulous takenoko gohan, where they are added to rice. They are also cooked with and wrapped in wakame seaweed to make wakatake-ni.

Tsukahara bamboo shoots on sale at Kanematsu in Kyoto's Nishikikoji marketBamboo shoots are especially grown in Rakusai on the western outskirts of Kyoto, where a whole specialist cuisine has evolved around the vegetable. They are at their best through a fairly short season in spring. Ishikawa, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Kochi, Shizuoka, Chiba, Ibaragi and Tochigi Prefectures also produce takenoko. The main variety is called mosochiku, with nemadake growing on the Japan Sea coastline. Madake is a variety that sprouts in July. Sun-dried and fermented bamboo shoots are known as menma. They are commonly used as a topping for, or side-dish accompaniment to ramen noodles.

Moyashi on Ramen Shimpuku SaikanMoyashi bean sprouts have always been associated with Chuka ryori Chinese cuisine, but of late have been making a huge comeback as a healthy, no-calorie vitamin-filled food. Varieties include mame moyashi, black mappe and ito moyashi. They are excellent in soups, nabe and itamemono stirfries. They cost almost nothing, and are always the first vegetable to sell out in my local Kyoto supermarket. They are commonly used as a topping on ramen.

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