JAPAN - (THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) Mie is the leading prefecture for bonito catches. The prefecture has its own specialty bonito dish, too: tekone-zushi, or sushi mixed by hand.
Tekone-zushi reportedly originated from a meal that fishermen made on their fishing boats. They thinly sliced a bonito just pulled out of the water and mixed the slices with rice seasoned with vinegar, lastly adding soy sauce. They ate the dish after mixing the ingredients with their fingers. Vinegar was used to preserve cooked rice on the boat.
In Shima, Mie Prefecture, the dish came to be prepared at home because it is easy to make as many women also worked hard as ama female divers.
"We made the dish using a big tub measuring about one meter in diameter on our boat," said Toshiaki Hamaguchi, who was brought up in the area and worked as a fisherman on a bonito fishing boat for more than 30 years until several years ago.
300 grams bonito for sashimi
20 kinome leaves
10 fresh ginger roots
2 tbsp roasted white sesame seeds
2 cups rice
1. Wash rice and soak in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Cook as usual.
2. Mix 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon and a little bit of salt and heat it over a low flame. After the sugar melts, pour the mixture evenly over the rice. Mix the rice using a cutting motion.
3. Cut bonito into bite-size pieces and soak them in a mixture of minced kinome leaves and 1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce for 10 minutes.
4. Julienne the fresh ginger.
5. Mix julienned ginger and white sesame seeds with rice seasoned with vinegar when rice cools to room temperature. Add bonito slices to the mixture from step 3, and lightly mix everything together with hands moistened with a mixture of water and vinegar.
This is sushi mixed with the first bonito of the season, kinome (young leaves of sansho Japanese pepper tree), new ginger and other fresh greenery that's in season. The dish is called tekone-zushi as these ingredients are mixed with one's hands.
"We also cooked rice using a gas stove," he added. "Forty to 50 fishermen used to be on a large boat, and if someone said he wanted to eat tekone-zushi, a group of people prepared the dish, and they ate it together."
A similar dish, based on a recipe carried in The Yomiuri Shimbun in 1994, is fantastic, with the fresh flavour of kinome young leaves of sansho Japanese pepper tree serving as toppings.
People prepare the dish today on festive occasions or when relatives and friends get together, according to Sachiko Ishihara, representative of Shima Isobue-kai, a local cuisine study group in the area.
"Many people enjoy the dish together," she said. "As it is prepared in a large tub, it's OK even if we don't know how many people will gather."
Other fish in season such as aji horse mackerel, isaki grunt, buri yellowtail and kanpachi amberjack are also used for the dish in many cases, she said.
In the olden days, bonito slices were just mixed with rice. Currently, however, bonito slices are placed on top of rice after some slices are mixed with the rice. To add colour, kinshi tamago thinly shredded egg omelets, beni shoga red pickled ginger and oba green leaves are also mixed in with the rice.
Public recognition of the dish is growing as an increasing number of restaurants serve the dish in various locations in the prefecture. On the other hand, occasions on which to cook the dish are decreasing, according to Hamaguchi.
"Fishermen who know how to cook the dish have retired, and the number of fishermen is decreasing," he said.
In Shima, local people are trying to hand the dish down to the next generation.
Kozo Takeuchi, who runs a restaurant in the city, won the grand prix with his original dish, called Tekone Rice Burger, a dish that sandwiches the ingredients of tekone-zushi, such as bonito and oba leaves, between rice seasoned with vinegar like a hamburger, at a gourmet contest sponsored by the municipal government and others five years ago. The dish is also served at his restaurant.
"I arranged the dish so that young people will eat it," Takeuchi said. "I'd like to pass on the dish that my grandmother used to cook for me when I was a child."
Our recipe for tekone-zushi is from the May 27, 1994, edition.