Woman behind Japan’s savory past

Woman behind Japan’s savory past

JAPAN - Last weekend's release of "Bushi no Kondate" (Recipes of a samurai) was perfectly timed, as the film about a samurai chef and his wife during the Edo period (1603-1867) features many traditional Japanese dishes that serve as the foundation of washoku, which was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list this month.

The film depicts members of the Funaki family, who descend from a long line of samurai who served as head chefs for the Kaga domain, mainly in current Ishikawa Prefecture. Popular actress Aya Ueto plays the role of the protagonist Haru, the wife of Funaki Yasunobu (Kengo Kora), who is next in line to serve as head of the family, although he lacks confidence in the family business.

The film illustrates dishes for all sorts of occasions-tai no karamushi (steamed sea bream stuffed with a mixture of okara bean-curd lees, pine nuts, ginkgo nuts, lotus root and others) for a wedding banquet; jibuni, which is a local stew containing duck meat or chicken, vegetables and sudare-fu (a type of wheat gluten) with soy sauce, sugar and other seasonings; and a massive banquet comprising numerous dishes on many trays, all cooked and served under strict protocol. In the film, the feast is held to celebrate the assumption of a new domain leader.

Highlighting Ishikawa Prefecture's mountain and ocean delicacies, the cuisine is elaborately prepared on beautiful Kutaniyaki porcelain dishes, another local specialty.

The scene depicting the feast is one of the film's most appealing moments, but even more brilliant is the smiling face of Haru and her sincere affection for her husband.

Haru has a superb palette and is a brilliant cook, but is divorced after a year of marriage because she is stubborn.

Funaki Dennai (Toshiyuki Nishida), the head chef for the Kaga domain, begs her to marry his son Yasunobu, and she agrees to do so. However, Yasunobu is a poor cook. Desperately, Haru begins teaching him.

"I practiced cutting vegetables and fish before shooting started," Ueto said. "The scales of crucian carp are as big as ohajiki (small glass discs used to play games), and they were flying through the air as I was descaling it. The bones are also really hard to cut. It's a laborious task."

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