Genryu Fishing of Japan #7

Sansai (mountain plants)

I wrote about sansai little bit at my previous posting of cooking at genryu camping. Now in Japan, it is the best season to gather sansais, and I went sansei camping with friends at last weekend.

Sansais are basically shoots of mountain plants or trees, and naturally we can get many kinds of sanseis at this season. Sansais are written as mountain vegetable in Japanese. We can sometimes find those sansais in lowland forests or some farmers cultivate sansais in the farm nowadays, but those ones are not as good as real sansais grow up in the mountains. Taste and flavor is so much different. We really feel climate and soil of the mountain can only cultivate those real good sansais.

Back to my story, we went to the mountains in south-east of Tohoku on Saturday morning. This time it is not genryu camping, we can carry camping equipment in a car.

Bigger tarp, bigger tents, chairs and tables. We drove through dirt forest road and set up the camp at the free camp site in the mountain. After having quick breakfast, we changed our cloths for sansei picking.

When you go sansai picking, you do not have to have special wear. You just wear old strong cloth that is comfortable to move with trekking shoes or rubber boots. Take plastic bags, a small knife and cotton work gloves. Go forest road by car looking for sansais and park the car sometimes where you think good place to find out sansaies and walk around.

Firstly we went to the southern slope of the mountain and found “Koshiabura”. Koshiabura is very popular sansei lately. It is shoots of mountain tree and has typical good flavor and harsh taste but it is excellent sansei with tempra or we make Koshiabura steamed rice. When we pick sansei we never take all the shoots. Koshiabura has at least 5 or 6 shoots. We leave some shoots not to blight the trees.

Next, we stopped the car in the little dark forest of cedars. There is a small stream and by the stream we found “Kogomi”. Kogomi is the shoot of kind of Ostrich fern. When it is still young shoot, the top curled part is good for tempra or Ohitashi (Boiled and dipped in soy sauce). Or just boil it and eat with mayonnaise. 

We had picknic lunch by the stream, and drove to the northern slope of the mountain.

This cooler part of the mountain, we could still find out some “Taranome”,it is little bit late to season though. Taranome is king of sansei. Very famous and good taste sansai. It is good for tempra, boiled and cooked in pastas. 

When we went back to the camp site, other friends gathered Udo, Aiko and some Nemagaritake (Bamboo shoots).

Cooking sansei is easy. Just wash them and take off trash and cook. Firstly Tempra. We make batter and dip sansai you like and fry it in 1 to 2 minutes. The best seasoning for Sansai tempra is just good salt. I personally like Taranome and Koshiabura tempra very much. We made a toast with beer and ate sansai tempra. It was just luxury time. For the knob of liquor Boiled Kogomi or Aiko are also very good. Dipped in soy sauce or mayonnaise.

The main menu of the night was Sansai Spaghetti. This is the one of best spaghetti I have ever had, and we can eat it only in this season. We boil koshiabura, taranome and kogomi in consommé soup and put them on spaghetti. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Simple but heavenly good.

Any meals are very good (we feel better), if we eat in the mountains, but there is no doubt meals with sansais that we gather and cook by ourselves are fantastically good.

Of course sansai meals are very popular in town, but we only get cultivated sansais at the supermarket. Or we have to go to the quite high class restaurants especially if you want natural sansais. Yes, sansais are very rare ingredients for the people living in town.

Soon, in June, We have nemagaritake (Chishima sasa bamboo) in the mountains in Tohoku. This small bamboo shoots are very good for tempra, boiled, grilled and in Miso soup. Having drink and sansai meals, we talked about the next genryu camp plan combining with nemagaritake picking.