Essentials of Japanese Cooking:  Making Delicious Miso Soup

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Miso soup is a vital, versatile part of Japanese cuisine. It can be served for breakfast, mixed with a bit of tofu and wakame seaweed. It can be part of a complete ichiju-sansai meal, served as the soup course. It can be served as part of a fancy meal, with crab legs and clams, or it can be served just by itself.

No matter how it is served, it is part of the soul of Japanese food.

Tofu Misoshiru is one of the most common forms of miso soup found in Japan and abroad. It is made by heating dashi stock with ingredients such as tofu and green onions, until the soup comes to a simmer. While the soup is simmering, a small amount of miso paste is dissolved in a separate bowl using a small amount of the warmed dashi. Once the dashi, tofu and green onions are cooked, the heat is turned off and the miso mixture is added into the soup, imparting protein, probiotics, umami and a lovely flavor. Dried, cut wakame seaweed is added at the end, just before serving, to round out the soup.

Making miso soup is deceptively simple, however, creating a truly delicious soup requires sensitive attention to the quality of ingredients and how the soup is prepared. As Rochelle Bilow, a writer for Bon Apetit, states, “With a soup that requires so few ingredients, the quality of each one really matters.” Using subpar miso paste and instant dashi detracts from the richness of a well-made miso soup. Similarly, using firm tofu in the soup detracts from the texture and mouthfeel of the soup. When adding vegetables, such as daikon or carrots or mushrooms to the soup, it’s important to slice them thinly and in small pieces and let them cook to tenderness in the soup’s liquid. Similarly, it’s important to balance the “heavy” ingredients, such as potatoes and tofu, with the “light” ingredients, such as scallions and seaweed, in the soup. Too much of one or the other affects the pleasure of eating the soup.

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Dissolving the miso in broth to remove lumps

How the miso is added to the soup mixture is one of the most important aspects of making delicious miso soup. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, and through the fermentation process, becomes full of beneficial bacteria and active cultures. Adding miso paste to the soup mixture while it is on the flame may kill these good bacteria and cultures and diminishes umami. Miso should be dissolved in a bit of broth first to remove any lumps and then added to the soup once the other ingredients have cooked. Then just before the soup returns to a simmer, turn off the heat.

Following these rules is the best way to make miso soup. But as with many Japanese foods, miso soup is versatile and adaptable. You can use different types of miso paste, from white, yellow, to red. A variety of vegetables can be added to the soup, including chard, carrots, radishes, mushrooms, sea vegetables, onions and potatoes. A variety of seafood can be added to the soup, including fish and crustaceans. Even noodles, such as udon, can be also be added to the soup.

Whatever way it’s made, miso soup is a staple in Japanese cuisine. Tell us how you make it!

 

Zojirushi Ms. Bento® Stainless Lunch Jar (SL-MEE07)

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September means back to school, college and work! Our Ms. Bento® Stainless Lunch Jar keeps you organized with a convenient way to take fresh and wholesome food with you, wherever you go.

The Ms. Bento® is a complete package, containing a washable, stainless steel outer jar, two microwaveable inner bowls, chopsticks, chopsticks holder and an easy-to-carry bag.

The durable outer container is made using Zojirushi’s superior vacuum insulation technology, which creates lasting insulation by removing the air between two layers of stainless steel walls. This keeps food hot or cold for hours.

The two inner bowls are perfect for a variety of foods. The main bowl has a 10 oz. capacity, good for holding rice, meat, vegetables, pasta or noodles. The main bowl’s insulated lid locks into place and helps to retain the temperature of the food inside the bowl, as well as prevent heat or cold from transferring from the side bowl, which sits above the main bowl and keeps foods at room temperature. The side bowl has an 11 oz. capacity, and holds foods such as salads, vegetables, fruit and desserts. Both bowls are locked into place with the outer lid.

Like all of our products, the inner bowls, outer container, lids and chopsticks are all easy to clean with soap and warm water.

The Ms. Bento® Stainless Lunch Jar comes in Aqua Blue and fits into the matching tote bag. It’s one of our best-selling products and we know you’ll love its practical and stylish convenience.

As always, we would love to hear from you, so be sure to leave a comment below.

 

Japanese Street Food: Dango! Dango! Dango!

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September marks transitions in Japan–from the humid heat of summer to the more temperate months of autumn, from vacations to a return to school and work, from the growing season to harvest.

Dango is a Japanese street food that transcends the change of seasons. It’s eaten all year long, with unique sweet or savory variations made for special occasions.

Dango in its most basic form is made from sweet glutinous rice flour and water. The dough is shaped into round balls which are boiled until cooked. The cooked dango are cooled in cold water and then skewered, ready to be grilled or basted and garnished. Different variations of dango are popular during certain events, but Mitarashi Dango is eaten throughout the year. It is said that Mitarashi Dango originated from the Kamo Mitarashi Tea House in Kyoto, and traditionally consists of five white dumplings, skewered on bamboo sticks, and is served with a sticky sweet soy sauce glaze. These dango can easily be found at festivals, food fairs and night markets!

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Mitarashi dango

Hanami dango (pictured in main photo) is another popular form of this delicious dish. Made during the cherry blossom viewing season in the spring, hanami dango consist of three colored dumplings–one green, one pink and one white–skewered on bamboo and served as part of hanami bento. The tradition of eating these dango during the bloom of cherry blossoms dates back to the 8th century!

Anko dango are white dumplings topped with sweetened red bean paste and yaki dango are white dumplings grilled over an open flame and served with a savory sauce.

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Anko dango

In September, Tsukimi Dango are prepared as part of the Jugoya celebration, during which Japanese people commemorate the harvest, decorate their homes and witness the Harvest Moon. Tsukimi dango, meaning “moon viewing dumplings”, are plain white dumplings. Their glossy, white, round surfaces resemble the bright moon. Families celebrate this time by setting up a small table near a window or on a porch. Tsukimi dango, arranged in a pyramid shape on a plate, are placed on the table along with sato-imo, or taro root. Sprays of pampas grass, or susuki, are also displayed on the table, as they resemble the rice plant. Families celebrate the season, eat these wonderful treats and enjoy the full moon, which is considered to be the most beautiful of the year.

With such a lovely image in mind, we hope you try making your own dango this month… and as always, we hope you share your experiences and photos with us!

Zojirushi’s Secrets for Delicious Rice: How to Wash Rice

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Rice is a staple in kitchens all over the world. Last month we discussed how to correctly store rice to preserve its nutrients, freshness and quality, as well as how to measure rice to prepare it perfectly. In our post this month, we share our secret for rinsing and washing short-grain Japanese rice.

The key to washing and rinsing rice is to be quick and gentle. Before modern milling methods, rice was typically not as clean and bran-free as it is today. Improved million methods now result in rice that is cleaner, but also more sensitive to scrubbing and soaking. Rice grains can break if they are rubbed together too harshly, so it’s important to use a light touch. Rice grains that have had the bran polished off also begin absorbing water quickly, so it’s important to limit the time short-grain rice is exposed to water, especially as the water becomes dirty.

There are four steps to washing and rinsing rice the Zojirushi way.

Preparation
Measure and add the desired amount of rice to the inner cooking pan of your Zojirushi rice cooker using the rice measuring cup that comes with it. Fill a separate bowl with clean, cool water and pour it into the inner pan.

Initial Rinse
With an open hand, stir the rice in the water 2-3 times, then drain. Repeat this initial rinse step up to three times, until the water begins to run clear. Be sure to spend no more than 10 seconds during each rinse, so the rice doesn’t absorb the starchy water.

Wash
After the initial rinse, make a claw with your hand and quickly stir the drained but wet rice 30 times in a circular motion, without squeezing the rice in the palm of your hand. Pool cool water in a separate bowl while you rinse, and pour into the rice, stir gently two to three times, and drain. Repeat this step two to four times, depending on how starchy your rice is. For less than four cups of rice, wash it twice. For between four and seven cups of rice, wash it three times, and for more than eight cups of rice, wash it four times. If the water remains cloudy, keep washing and rinsing until the rice grains are visible through the water. Be sure to work quickly so that each wash takes only 15 seconds or less. Washing the rice this way prevents it from breaking and cleans residue and starch from each grain.

Final Rinse
The final rinse removes any remaining starch from the rice. Pour plenty of water into the inner pan, stir with an open hand and drain the rice. Repeat this step twice to ensure that the rice is clean.

Be sure to complete the four steps within 10 minutes, and the rice is ready to cook!

Different types of rice need to be washed and rinsed in their own ways. Our method works best for short-grain white rice. Let us know how you prepare your rice!

Pan (The Breads of Japan)

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Rice might still be the number one staple in Japan, but bread is so popular that a typical breakfast might be toast and coffee as it would be fish and miso soup. The Japanese word for bread is “pan”, but if you look up the etymology you’ll find the same word for bread in the Portuguese language. It makes sense since bread was first brought to Japan by the Portuguese in the 1500s.

I love all the dessert breads and savory combinations that make up the selection at a typical Japanese bakery. I even like the old-fashioned An-pan pictured above, which I think is still a comfort food to many Japanese. It was invented by Yasubei Kimura, a former samurai who turned to baking when the samurai class was dissolved with the influence of Western culture. Today the Kimuraya Bakery is the oldest chain in the country, and An-pan can be found everywhere, filled with sweet chestnut, white bean paste, and other dessert fillings as well as the traditional red bean paste. The black sesame seeds on top is the classic An-pan look.

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Melon Pan is another of my favorites. It’s not even usually melon flavored, but there’s something about the crusty, cookie dough outer shell and soft, moist bread inside that is so good, it doesn’t need any filing. This is an awesome sweet bread, loved by everyone in Japan, and instantly recognized by its signature cross hatch pattern and round shape–like a melon.

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Cream Pan is a soft bread very similar to an-pan in fluffy consistency. The big difference is the filling, which can best be described as a creamy custard. There are all kinds of variations on the outer shape, but to me, it’s the filling that makes a really good cream pan. Not too soft, but firm enough not to ooze out; and eggy like a good custard should be.

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Then there’s the Shoku Pan, a very ordinary loaf of Japanese white bread. This is the kind of bread served at breakfast–sometimes as a simple slice of buttered toast with coffee, called a “Morning Set”. The unique thing about shoku pan though, is the thickness of the slices–sometimes over an inch thick for breakfast, sometimes a thin, one-third inch for sandwiches. Unlike American white bread, shoku pan has a soft, creamy taste and a stretchy kind of texture that is unbelievably habit forming. When making tea sandwiches with the thin ones, be sure to cut off the crust for a better presentation. When I used to make my daughter’s lunches for school, her friends were impressed that the crusts were cut off! LOL. The thick ones make an excellent breakfast–toasted to a golden brown goodness.

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Now let’s get into some savory breads–my favorite thing for snacks and lunches. First up is Curry Pan. Real Japanese style curry, thickened and stuffed into a deep fried dough coated with bread crumbs. Amazing! Maybe a bit oily sometimes, but so good if you’re a fan of curry. These football shaped snacks are very popular and can be found anywhere in Japan–convenience stores, train stations, corner bakeries, vending machines; anywhere!

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Then there is the Korokke Pan, a deep fried potato croquette wedged in a soft roll and drizzled with a sweet/salty sauce. Even if the croquette (korokke) is unlikely to be crispy anymore after having been on the shelf for awhile, this is still good stuff! A close relative to this sandwich is the Katsu Sando, made with a pork cutlet in place of the croquette. Now that’s a lunch, man.

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The last one is the very popular Yakisoba Pan, which seems a little top heavy on the carbs when you realize it’s a noodle sandwich, but it works somehow! I guess you have to first be a fan of yakisoba, the chow mein like fried noodles that most Japanese kids grew up with. I’ve always loved this tangy dish because it’s so loaded with flavor. If you can put it between two halves of a hot dog style bun and call it a sandwich, then so be it! I won’t complain.

So that’s my list of top breads of Japan. What are yours? Here are some recipes from the Zojirushi site. Try them for yourself!

An-pan

Shoku Pan

Curry Pan

Melon pan

credits: an-pan and yakisoba pan by JPinfo.com, shoku pan by JapanTimes.com, melon pan by JapaneseCooking101.com, other images by Bert Tanimoto

Japanese Street Food: Yaki-Tomorokoshi!

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The first week of August was a week of many festivals in Japan, and with summer festivals come summer street food!

Yaki-tomorokoshi, or roasted corn, is a savory preparation of fresh, sweet summer corn. Along with okonomiyaki, takoyaki and yakisoba, freshly grilled corn is a must when attending a natsumatsuri, or summer festival.

Imagine this… colorful festivals, often full of people dressed in yukata, a type of kimono worn in summer, with beautifully decorated floats, or festival lanterns… all crowded together in the hot days and nights of August. Surrounding festival goers are specialty food stalls, and the delicious smell brings additional excitement to the festive atmosphere.

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Making grilled corn is a quintessentially Japanese process—simple ingredients prepared in careful, thoughtful ways. The husk and silk of each ear of corn is stripped away and tied at the end of the ear to make a handle. The cleaned corn is placed on a well-oiled grill and usually basted with soy sauce for a wonderful savory flavor. We’ve even had yaki-tomorokoshi with a sweet honey miso butter made of soy sauce, miso paste, butter, honey and salt.

Festivals are great places to celebrate and to eat! Other popular street foods include grilled squid and steamed potatoes with butter as well as candied apples, sponge cakes, crepes and of course, cotton candy!

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Yum!

Some of the most popular summer festivals that happened this month are the Akita Kanto Matsuri, the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, the Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri, and the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. Each festival is unique, but they all share a theme of praying for a successful farming season, prosperity and progress and the fulfillment of wishes. And they all have many, many street food stalls… where you can easily find a serving of yaki-tomorokoshi!

If you’re in Japan in time for festival season, don’t forget to try grilled corn… and don’t forget to look out for next month’s post about Japanese street food!

 

Essentials of Japanese Cooking:  Herbs & Spices

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As we’ve learned in previous posts, ryori no sa shi su se so and umami-rich dashi are the essential seasonings used in Japanese cooking. But what other flavorings does Japanese cuisine rely on?

In our post this month, we explore the most popular herbs and spices used in cooking both traditional and modern Japanese dishes. Let’s begin by answering these questions: What is an herb? What is a spice? And how are they different?

According to the Herb Society of America, herbs are “small, seed-bearing plants with fleshy, rather than woody, parts. They are valued for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal and healthful qualities, economic and industrial uses, pesticidal properties and coloring materials (dyes).” Commonly used herbs in European cooking include parsley, basil, thyme, sage, oregano and chives. In Japanese cooking, popular herbs include mitsuba, shiso and negi.

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Herb negi

By contrast, spices are “any dried part of a plant, other than the leaves, used for seasoning and flavoring a recipe, but not used as a main ingredient.” Well-known spices include cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, ginger and turmeric. In Japanese cooking, popular spices are wasabi, togarashi and shoga.

Herbs and spices can sometimes come from the same plant. For example, cilantro, the herb, produces coriander, the spice made from its seeds. And shiso leaf (top photo), the herb, produces shiso seeds, the spice. Herbs and spices exhibit different properties during cooking and are prepared and stored differently. Herbs are best used while they are fresh and green, usually picked just before using. Spices are generally dried, with the exception of some spice roots, and are either ground, made into a paste or used whole. Both herbs and spices can be used uncooked and cooked, adding different tastes to food.

Japanese herbs such as mitsuba, shiso and negi are commonly used in Japanese dishes. Mitsuba, or trefoil, has a thin greenish-white stalk and a three-pointed leaf. It looks similar to flat-leafed parsley, with a flavor similar to sorrel or celery, and is most famously used in Chawanmushi. Shiso is a member of the mint family and has an earthy flavor. It is fried as part of tempura dishes and used to garnish and season various dishes such as Salmon Chazuke, salad and sashimi, or slices of fresh cut fish.

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Mitsuba

Negi is a member of the allium family and is used as an herb in many dishes. Both the white and green parts of negi are used in Japanese cooking, although different regional dishes use one or the other more often. Negi has a taste similar to scallions and leeks, with the white portion becoming sweet when cooked and the green portion used as a garnish atop dishes such as miso soup, cold soba noodle, and cold tofu.

Herbs generally add a fresh, light, green flavor to dishes. Spices, by contrast, add depth and intense flavor. Togarashi, or hot red chili peppers, are used both fresh or dried. Crushed into a powder, ichimi togarashi, which means “one flavor chili pepper”, is commonly added to soups and udon noodles just before eating. Ginger, or shoga, is another spice typically found in Japanese cooking. The freshly ground root is highly aromatic and pungent, and is often used in seafood dishes to mask any unpleasant smell of the fish. When pickled, ginger is served as a condiment alongside such dishes as sushi, okonomiyaki and takoyaki. One of our favorite summer recipes is Shoga-Yaki, or Ginger Pork, and we know you’ll enjoy it too!

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Wasabi root

Wasabi is probably the most iconic of all Japanese spices. Made into a paste from the grated root of green horseradish, wasabi has antimicrobial properties that can keep food from spoiling. Wasabi is highly pungent and spicy and is most often served with Nigiri Sushi and other types of sushi or sashimi.

Subtle to strong, herbs and spices are essential for bringing out the flavor of Japanese foods. Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer (NS-LGC05)

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We’re excited to introduce our newest small-capacity, microcomputerized rice cooker this month!

The Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer (NS-LGC05) is stylishly designed, and has innovative technology and cooking features that make it easy and convenient to use.

This rice cooker’s microcomputer uses advanced fuzzy logic technology to make fine adjustments to cooking temperatures, so that rice cooks perfectly each time. The multiple settings let you easily cook a variety of rice, including white, mixed, sushi, brown, and—for the first time—long grain white rice. Expanded healthy menu options include settings for steel cut oatmeal and GABA brown rice, which soaks the brown rice before cooking for enhanced nutrition. Each of these menu settings can be selected on the easy-to-read LCD control panel, which also has a clock, and delay timer function.

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This rice cooker uses a triple heater on the bottom, sides, and lid to generate heat all around the inner cooking pan so that the rice heats evenly. The removable steam vent cap located on the outer lid allows for high-temperature cooking without messy overflows. Once rice is cooked, the rice is automatically kept warm, and the REHEAT cycle brings the rice back to serving temperature when you’re ready to chow down.

Along with these great features, the rice cooker comes with a practical and easy-to-clean nonstick coated spherical inner pan. High-contrast water level lines on the inside of the pan make it simple to read how much water should be added to the pan for the specified amount of rice. The pan and the detachable inner lid are both hand washable, and the clear-coated stainless steel exterior is easy to wipe down after use. The built-in retractable power cord and sturdy fold-down handle make it easy to store and transport this compact rice cooker.

The NS-LGC05 Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer comes in a 3-cup capacity, making it ideal for small kitchens. Individuals and small families can make as little as ½ cup of rice or oats and as much as three cups of perfectly delicious rice. Accessories include a rice measuring cup, spatula and spatula holder.

We know you’ll love this new rice cooker as much as we do, and you’ll be able to purchase it from our great retail partners this month! As always, we’d would love to hear from you, so be sure to leave a comment below.

 

Zojirushi’s Secrets for Delicious Rice: Storing & Measuring Rice

 

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Nutritious, cultivated all over the globe, enjoyed as part of global cuisines–rice is truly a universal food. Delicious rice begins with high-quality seeds and careful cultivation, and ends with fastidious storage, measurement, washing and cooking.

Over the next few months, we’re sharing our secrets for preparing delicious short-grain Japanese rice. Our first post focuses on how to correctly store and measure short-grain rice so that it’s ready for cooking in our rice cookers.

Purchasing the freshest, highest-quality rice possible is the first step in preparing delicious rice. Buying rice in smaller quantities means it will be used quickly, with less chance of spoiling. Rice is typically packaged in breathable bags, in sizes ranging from as little as two pounds to larger 15-pound bags, and at Zojirushi, we recommend buying the amount of rice you can consume within a month or so.

Once the rice is brought home from the market, it’s important to store it in such a way as to preserve its freshness. Rice should be stored in dry, airtight containers with the milling date, if available, noted on the container. Storing rice in airtight containers helps prevent the fatty acids in the rice from oxidizing and keeps it free of other contaminants. Rice should also be protected from humidity and high temperatures. Rice stored in cold pantries or refrigerators will stay fresh longer, as high temperatures speed up the degradation of the rice grains. Keeping rice in low-humidity environments protects it from the growth of molds and mildew.

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Measure accurately by leveling off each cup

Knowing how to measure rice correctly is the next key to preparing delicious rice. Each type of rice uses a specific rice-to-water ratio, and using too much or too little water causes the rice to cook too hard or too soft. In Zojirushi’s rice cookers, the amount of water needed to cook rice is easy to figure out, but the rice needs to be measured accurately first. The key to accurately measuring rice is to use the “overfill and level off” method. Using the rice measuring cup that comes with each Zojirushi rice cooker, scoop rice out of its container. Overfill the cup to above the brim, and then remove the excess by gently leveling off the top of the cup. Shaking excess rice off the cup or pressing rice into the cup could change the amount of rice that fits in the cup, affecting the way the rice cooks, and ultimately, its taste and texture.

Many other cultures have their own methods of buying, storing and measuring rice. How do you do it? Let us know in the comments below!

Son Of A Peach!

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August is National Peach Month; and if you really love peaches, August 24th is National Peach Pie Day, and August 22nd is National Eat a Peach Day. But in Japan, the most famous peach is MOMOTARO, the Peach Boy! So in honor of Peach Month in the USA and Peach Boy in Japan, I want to take some liberties and retell the legend of MOMOTARO from a slightly peachier perspective…

Many, many years ago, there lived an elderly couple in the rural lands of Japan known as Okayama. They were childless but were content to live a simple, uncluttered life. One day, as the old woman washed their clothes by the clear, crisp water of the river, to her utter amazement she saw the biggest, juiciest looking peach come floating downstream. Elated with her good fortune, she quickly scooped it up and took it back home.

One thing the old lady was good at, was her skill in the kitchen. And her specialty just happened to be Peach Pie. Her pies were so delicious, just the smell of one of her freshly baked pies was enough to bring her husband home, even when he was deep in the woods gathering firewood. In fact, during those days, it worked better than a cell phone ever could.

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But just as she made her first shallow cut into the peach, a baby boy sprang out from inside and nearly gave both the old woman and old man a heart attack. They recovered quickly though, when they saw what a cute little boy he was. And so the legend of MOMOTARO was born. The bonus was that the rest of the peach was still good, so the elderly couple was still able to have their peach pie.

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In time, MOMOTARO grew up to become a healthy and noble young man, having been raised by old fashioned parents who loved old fashioned peach pie. So when he learned of a band of delinquent Ogres terrorizing the townspeople of Onigashima, he couldn’t stand idly by and watch the injustice. He decided to clean up the village.

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Japanese ONI (ogre)

Reluctantly, his parents sent him on his mission with nothing more than a handful of homemade kibidango (millet dumplings). Of course, these kibidango were about as delicious as his mother’s peach pies, so he had no trouble recruiting allies on his way to Onigashima, just by offering them the soft chewy desserts in exchange for their fighting spirits. And so it was that this motley crew of a brave boy, a pheasant, a dog and a monkey, approached the great gate to the lair of the Ogres.

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Kibidango

The plan was simple. Pheasant flies over the gate and starts the attack on the Ogres, distracting them long enough for MOMOTARO, Dog and Monkey to sneak through a secret passage and launch a full scale offensive. It worked to perfection–after a lot of snarling, biting and yelling, the Ogres just gave up. In a symbolic gesture of surrender, the Ogres had to cut off their horns so they could never threaten the townspeople again, and all the treasures they had stolen were given to MOMOTARO to be returned to the people.

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Statue of MOMOTARO in the city of Okayama

Thus it was that MOMOTARO and his brave band of unlikely soldiers returned home triumphant, heroes with great tales to tell. And since that great adventure, the region of Okayama has been known to grow the best peaches in all of Japan.

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Okayama white peaches

Happy National Peach Month everybody!

 

 

Images: Peach Pie by Aliston Ashton, Ogre by gapyear.com, Peaches by Ackley, Momotaro and Kibidango by jpinfo.com and web-japan.org