Deep-fried lotus root dish putting Japan city on the map

HASHIMA, Japan - It looks just like katsudon, or pork cutlet served on top of a bowl of rice. But when you bite a piece of the cutlet, a crunchy texture greets your teeth. It's not pork - it's renkon lotus root coated with crumbs and deep-fried.

Pork slices are wrapped around the renkon before frying to create a unique texture and flavor, and the deep-fried pork-renkon is lightly simmered with egg, soy sauce and other ingredients before being placed atop the rice.

The city of Hashima is the largest renkon producer in Gifu Prefecture. The cultivation method was brought from Tsushima, Aichi Prefecture, at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867). The city's solid ground is said to help lotus roots grow hard, thick and long.

Japanese restaurant Chikusen's owner, Fumichika Baba, 71, came up with the idea of making the renkon cutlet bowl in 1994 when he participated in a cooking contest organised by the prefectural government to make use of local specialties.

Baba used renkon as an ingredient because the vegetable is available almost year-round, as it is harvested from September to May.

Having studied the optimum thickness of pork to be rolled around the renkon and the best way to coat it with breadcrumbs, Baba won a prize in the contest. However, since renkon is so familiar in the region, few people cooked his dish after the contest, and it was almost forgotten.

In light of the 20th anniversary of Chikusen in 1996, Baba added the dish to his menu. "I'd like to make renkon dishes an additional value of Hashima, and lure people from outside to visit the city," Baba said.

The renkon cutlet bowl set costs ¥785, and the restaurant also offers six other kinds of renkon dishes. Baba has called for other eateries in his neighborhood to popularise renkon dishes, and in 2010, a group comprising 10 restaurants and shops was formed for this purpose.

"If the consumption of renkon increases, it will support farmers who are suffering from a lack of successors," he said.

*Chikusen

Open: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Closed: Monday

Address: 3-17 Marunouchi, Takehanacho, Hashima, Gifu Prefecture

Tel: (058) 393-0228

Credit cards not accepted

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