It was an exciting day for the Akadot TV team when a box of local products from Takahata Village, Yamagata Prefecture, crash landed at our office.
Takahata Village, located in Yamagata prefecture in central northern Japan, is popular with Japanese foodies for its excellent wineries and delicious local produce. Its natural surroundings are said to be so stunning that it is also known as mahoroba no sato, or “paradise”. For foreign tourists, the ride to paradise is a quick and easy one with the JR Rail Pass – just 2 hours from Tokyo on the Shinkansen at no additional charge.
So how did these noms from paradise taste? Naturally, we had to savor these the Akadot way – so this is the story of how I created a day’s menu of fusion Japanese-Singapore meals.
Bento for lunch – beat the queues, brighten your day
First up was lunch. I thought it would be fun to assemble a bento with the pickles from Mitsuokuya, a veteran pickle maker with history dating back to the 1940s. The samples they sent over came in a range of colors that I figured would look nice in a carefully-arranged bento.
Bangiku is Mitsuokuya’s signature pickle. A melange of 10 different vegetables, this salty crunchy Japanese cousin of cai poh and caixin lends a pop of flavor to whatever bland carbohydrate it is paired with.
While Teochew porridge would definitely go well with this pickle, I eventually decided on Chwee kueh to best showcase the pretty shreds that make up Bangiku (it actually includes real chrysanthemum flowers!).
With just a bit of imagination, Nanbanmiso could be a spicier, saltier version of the fu ru that often accompanies porridge. Since I was making a bento though, porridge would not work quite well here. Plain rice would have been fine, but why not crank up the tastiness quotient with fried rice? As the Nanbanmiso was already intense enough on its own, I chose to mix it in with the cooked fried rice instead of having it on the side.
Not quite local, but the nevertheless popular Korean Fried Chicken was the first thing I thought of. The juicy crunch and thirst-quenching sweetness of this pickle reminded me of the daikon pickles that often accompany fried chicken done Korean style. In Singapore, we have har cheong gai (prawn paste chicken), and that is what I got for my bento. (Sorry ayam penyet, you live too far from me.)
Finally, to add a touch of green to my predominantly brown-and-red bento, I mixed Omizuke Wasabi with sliced cucumbers to create a quick salad that was a refreshing palate cleanser.
Omizuke Wasabi on its own is a sweet pickle made from wasabi and sake lees that marries the mellow aroma of the latter with the grassy fragrance of the former. Wasabi lovers will adore this pickle for its characteristic wasabi heat, enhanced but not smothered by the sake lees that the wasabi is pickled in. The raw cucumbers helped to tone down that heat, which made all the difference between tasty salad and pungent punch..
As for the final pickle, I left it as it is. Kankoubai is green plums pickled in sweet vinegar and red shiso (perilla), with the final result being a deep magenta pickle with an assertive, intense love-it-or-hate-it flavor.
The final product was a delicious rainbow-y bento that checked off all the main food groups. My family loved it, and there were no leftovers.
(Better than instant) noodles for dinner
For dinner, I decided to have the rice noodles from Satoiro NRF, a Takahata rice grower that aims to bring back eco-friendly, traditional methods of rice farming for healthier, tastier rice and rice products. The half-dried raw noodles in green, black and brown came vacuum-packed and seemed like they would turn into slippery pliant strands after cooking. How wrong I was.
The noodles only required a minute of boiling, and turned out to have the perfect balance of tenderness and elasticity once cooked. I even experimented by leaving out 2 portions of noodles, one strained and one soaked in tap water, for a few hours the day before to see if they would survive a grossly-delayed food delivery attempt. Much to my delight, both samples managed to retain their chewy texture without either turning into rubber bands or disintegrating completely.
After familiarizing myself with the textural properties of these noodles, I then had to turn them into something that would suffice for a Great Singaporean Dinner. Since I could not shake the mental images of inky black noodles in creamy vermilion coconut milk broth from my head, laksa it had to be.
The crisp visual contrast was pleasing. As I still had half a packet of noodles left and family members to feed, it was time to make another noodle dish. Keeping in mind the golden rules for pairing pasta with sauce – smooth surfaces with thick sauces and rough surfaces with lighter sauces, the next idea that popped up in my head was dry wonton noodles.
The thick wonton sauce coated each strand well, while the fried shrimp dumplings looked auspicious enough for a Chinese New Year ad perched on top of the noodles. Not bad at all.
Happy hour, Akadot style
To end the day, the Akadot team had a happy hour at Koh-sensei‘s place. A bona fide alcohol connoisseur, he was excited to try out the sakes and wines from Takahata.
We planned to enjoy the booze with dips and cheeses from Gotouya, a Takahata company that sells ready-to-eat foods made from locally-farmed produce. Mentaiko Mayonnaise, Garlic and Basil Mayonnaise and Tartar Sauce are hardly foreign to the local palate, so how could I make them even more Singaporean?
It took a brief eternity staring at these dips before I managed to come to the conclusion that whatever I paired them with had to be either crispy or strongly-flavored.
Think salad youtiao, crispy prata and sambal stingray. In the end, I settled on a party-friendly selection of snacks: prata, crispy taupok, fish chips, youtiao, toasted taukwa and satay.
If Akadot ran a bar this was what we’d serve with our drinks.
The cheese cubes in olive oil come in basil pesto and shiokoji (fermented rice seasoned with salt) flavors respectively, and unlike the dips, were not content to sit back and play a supporting role to some random local snack. No, they had to take center stage.
This was why I settled on toasted youtiao, for it was crisp and light enough to not overpower the cheese cubes’ umami notes and fruity olive oil fragrance.
Texturally, the combination of crunch (youtiao) and chew (cheese) was a winner.
We had high hopes for the wine from Takahata Brewery as Takahata is the largest producer of Delaware grapes in Japan. Sake from Yonetsuru Brewery with its 300 years of history and specially-grown rice sounded tempting too, and oh boy were we in for a treat.
Some Akadot magic happened when Koh-sensei opened the bottle of Sparkling Rosé from Yonetsuru Brewery (yes, this is a pink sake made from rice) and happened to spot some orange juice lying around. This triggered his cocktail-making instincts, prompting him to pull a Fruit Ninja on what tropical fruit he could find in the fridge to turn the rosé into a delicious sangria.
While traveling to Takahata right now might still be a fantasy for most of us, here’s how you might be able to get some of this Takahata goodness for yourself: like our FB/IG page and leave a comment under either this or this post to let us know which recipe you’d like to try at home! A big thank you once again to all the Takahata vendors who kindly gifted us with samples of their products!