If you’re ever in the Kanto region (that is, Tokyo-ish), I recommend visiting Kamakura. It’s less than 30 minutes by train from Yokohama station, so about an hour or less for us.
Kamakura was the seat of the shoguns who ruled Japan (having taken power from the emperor) from roughly 1190-1333, which thus is called the Kamakura period. The city is partially surrounded by step hills, so it was strategically protected, and consequently still very beautiful. Plus there are beaches! Kamakura was also important in the development of Japanese Buddhism, and so there are lots of historic temples and the famous Amida Buddha statue.
Anyway, I will write another post about Kamakura more generally, but for now, I want to write about a very special trip that we took to have shōjin ryōri.
Shōjin ryōri is the traditional cuisine of Japanese Buddhist monks and does not include any animal products. One description I read said that the monks do not eat anything “that flees when chased.” The food is based on seasonal vegetables and spices that nourish the body in accordance with the season (e.g., to warm, cool, fortify against cold). Some of the most characteristic staples include sesame oil, nuts, miso, kombu and wakame seaweeds, soy in various forms, kanten (agar-agar powder) and of course fresh veggies, although garlic and onions are not used. Here is a description in English from the restaurant that we went to. Another explanation from Kikkoman is also interesting.
So what did we eat? See below!
Descriptions in the order that the food was served
Top left photo
- Left plate
- Kinpira (thin veggies with sesame oil) with green peppers and konnyaku (in the bowl)
- Juicy eggplant with miso
- Sweetened black bean
- “Loaf” of okara (powder from tofu making) with beans
- Garnished with a stalk of ginger
- Top right bowl
- Kabocha (pumpkin), green beans, yomogi fu (mugwort), yuba (sheets from tofu making), fu (wheat gluten)
- Bottom left bowl
- Greens with sesame seeds
- Middle bowl
- Goma dofu (sort of like tofu, but actually made with smashed sesame seeds), garnished with ginger. Very smooth.
- Front right bowl
- Cucumber with tiny chopped nagaimo (sticky potato)
- Across the way on Y’s side, you can see a small ball of rice with red beans: our special extra dish as we were celebrating our wedding anniversary (4+ months late)
All I can say about all of this is that it was gorgeous.
Top middle photo
- Fried yuba, with soy sauce and a secret pouch with some delicious roasted veggies (not sure what they were). Yuba is a sheet of tofu that forms during the tofu making process. It’s very smooth and light, once called in the New York Times, tofu’s “sexy and elegant cousin.” Very tasty. I had never had fried yuba before, and although initially it was delicious, this portion was just a bit too much of a good thing.
- This was the most delicate of the courses, with baby corn, myoga (similar to ginger), shiitake, asparagus and okra (hiding a bit in the photo), and grated nagaimo (those sticky potatoes again)
- Back to bolder flavour again with a miso sauce and wakame seaweed, fuki (butterbur, looks like celery in the photo), a thin sheet of fried tofu, and the best part: lovely crunchy takenoko (bamboo shoots, sort of at the back of the photo).
I was full by this point, but I managed most of the next course anyway:
- Rice mixed with matcha (green tea) (front left)
- Furikake, which is the generic name for rice seasoning. This particular one was made of wheat gluten and sesame seeds with a tangy, nutty flavour (top left)
- Traditional pickles: daikon (radish) and plum leaves (sooo good) (small bowl in the middle)
- Miso soup with myoga, greens (spinach or komatsuna, not sure) and maybe something else (front right)
Other types of Japanese food would rely on fish stock for many of these dishes, but shōjin ryōri uses stocks and seasonings made from mushroom and seaweed stock as well as soy sauce, sesame oil, etc.
- Dessert! Fortunately it was very cool and gentle, and a perfect finish. Lightly lemon flavoured jelly (for lack of a better word) made of kanten (aka agar-agar powder), with grapefruit and pineapple.
I certainly can’t hope to replicate this at home, but I am now inspired to get out my shōjin ryōri cookbook, Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan (recommended!).