Good grief, I feel like a grandmother or something! The couple for whom we were nakodo (go-between) last year have had a baby. The couple are the son and daughter-in-law of our local caterer here in Yokogoshi. They now have a baby and grandpa phoned repeating over and over, "otokonoko de yokata" (Happy it's a baby boy. So yesterday I went bearing gifts to view the little object of all the rejoicing.
When I approached the house, I could see fish-banners flying high. The baby boy is not even a month old and they are bragging already. They put the banners up for May 5 which is called "Kodomo no Hi" (Children's Day) but call it what you may, those fish flags still boast sons and only sons. Sixteen seventy-four or 1974 in this man's country, happy is the new mother who hears "Otokonoko de yokatta!"
In case you haven't noticed, most festivals here fall on the day that matches the month number. For instance, the 3rd of March "Hinamatsuri" (Girls' Day), 5th of May (Boys' Day)and the 7th July "Tanabata" (Star Festival).
This seed of thought came from China but the Japanese have grown their own kind of fruit from it. "Tango" or two-fives is the very luckiest of them all and this, of course, is dedicated to the boys.
In the very, very old days, people just went to the mountains on this day and gathered grass. Soon they began to make the trip to the mountain worthwhile and it became a day for hunting wild beasts.
Next step was that the hunting turned into contests for archery and other skills considered manly. The armor, helmets and weapons were part of it and soon the 5th of May was also a day to display these objects and finally to erect banners outside of their homes depicting scenes of bravery - men's bravery of course.
The carp came into the picture from China. The carp is a fish that fights its way upstream and it was believed that those carp that could reach the upper part of the Yellow River and climb the difficult "Ryumon" (Dragon's Gate waterfall, would actually turn into dragons. This was obviously a desirable thing to become (except for wives and mothers-in-law) and by the middle of the Edo Period (about 1780) small paper carp were tied on to the banners outside the homes of sons.
Some people to this day still actually gather sweet-flag, a medicinal grass, to put on their roofs and let the boys wash their bodies with on this day. However, most families now-a-days just fly their flags and a few eat chocolate cakes shaped like the samurai helmets of old, which would probably make the samurai-of-old turn over in their honorable graves.
Well, what do people eat on the day they celebrate having sons? No special foods that I know of, at least nothing more exciting than little cakes that most are not interested in. However, while viewing our newest, little local son of Nihon, the proud grandpa brought out hot sake and the best pink-and-white "tai" (snapper) I've eaten in a while.
Tai is a food eaten on any happy occasion and I am told that when the cherry blossoms begin to fall, that starts the best season for tai, which is just about before Boys' day. Snapper or "tai" is considered the very best of fish by most Japanese. A lean meat, it is delicious when prepared for Sashimi but very good to cook in any of your favorite ways.
How To Make Tai no Shioyaki
- GRILLED TAI
- 4 small tai
- Enough fresh chopped ginger to garnish
- Small "daikon" (Japanese radish)
Scale, clean and wash the fish. Sprinkle with salt on both sides and leave for 2 hours. Wash off salt and dry thoroughly. Insert one long skewer into the side to come out by the tail. Insert another skewer so that it crosses the first by the tail. Stick slices of daikon in the fins to keep them straight. Sprinkle with salt and grill, first on one side, then turn by the skewers and grill on the other side.
When cooked, extract the skewers with care not to damage the appearance of the fish. garnish with ginger. Mix lemon juice with equal amounts of shoyu and serve as a sauce for dipping the fish.
Baked Whole Tai
Wipe the fish with a damp cloth. Rub inside and out with salt. Put in a greased shallow baking pan. Brush with melted butter or margarine and if desired, lay a couple of slices of bacon over the top. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for 40 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Baste with melted butter several times during the baking.
Bake or broil pieces of tai by dipping each piece into a mixture of twice as much melted butter as fresh lemon juice. Put in a greased shallow baking pan. Bake in a moderate oven until fish flakes easily or broil under a broiler turning when each side is done. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Other Lean White Meat Fish
flounder ("hirame"), flatfish ("karei"), sea bass ("suzuki").