Myoga Ginger, Shoga & Garlic

Giving Japan a Lil' Flavor

What Is Myoga? You ask

Myoga: Japanese Ginger

Myoga is a ginger relative, but its taste and rather powerful fragrance are wholly different from shoga ginger. Only the buds and stems are eaten, not the root. Myoga is usually thinly sliced and added to miso soup, nimono, sushi, and is particularly suited to pairing with katsuo no tataki seared bonito fish, and pairing with vinagered dishes.

Japanese ginger myoga

 Myoga: Japanese Ginger

Myoga blooms twice a year, from June to August as natsu myoga, and August to October as aki myoga autumn myoga. Originally it was called mega, and was an import from North-east Asia. It is thought to have first been cultivated in Tokyo, in the area of today’s Bunkyo Ward that bears its name: Myogatani, literally ‘myoga valley’. Legend has it that myoga induces forgetfulness, as one monk tried it and promptly forgot where he was.

Shoga: Ginger

Although not used as widely as in other parts of Asia, shoga ginger is often used grated to flavor dipping sauces or to put on tofu. It is pickled as beni shoga and added to or used as an accompaniment to sushi dishes, especially chirashizushi vinegared rice topped with raw fish and vegetables, and tonkotsu ramen pork-broth ramen. Shoga and shoyu soy sauce are the perfect match.

It is also added to soups and stocks, and is the main flavoring in ankake thick soba and udon dishes. Buta no shogayaki pork stir-fried in ginger is a popular shokudo canteen and izakaya dish. Shoga-yu, made by mixing ginger and hot water, is the traditional cold cure and winter body-warmer. It is also thought that eating ginger during the summer makes you feel cooler as it increases perspiration.

Ninniku: Garlic

Traditionally Japanese cuisine has shied away from garlic, most likely because it was prohibited from use in Buddhist temple kitchens. The monks perceived it as being chock full of yang male energy, and likely to stimulate the very desires that meditation was designed to quell. Samurai similarly regarded it as dangerously stimulating, and refrained from touching it.

Two garlic bulbs

It is, however, cultivated in Japan, along with its close relative nobiru, both of which are sometimes nicknamed hiru. Aomori Prefecture in the Tohoku region produces the vast majority of Japan’s garlic. Whilst not commonly used in jun washoku ‘pure Japanese cuisine’ it is essential in ramen, gyoza potstickers, yakiniku roast beef and any crossover cuisine with Chinese or even Italian influences.

Garlic has always played a part in traditional Asian medicine, and Japan has perceived it as a ‘herbal medicine’ for centuries. It is thought to give energy, deter colds, and some argue for its anti-carcinogenic properties.

Kuroninniku black garlic, developed by Mie university and cultivated in that prefecture and elsewhere, is sold as a health supplement. A company in Nagano Prefecture has developed mushou ninniku odorless garlic. It sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

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