Setsubun

After all that talk of winter and being cold, the temperature in Saitama prefecture was over 10°C!  Ah well.  This is somewhat fitting, however, because today is yesterday was setsubun (節分) in Japan. This holiday, which usually falls on February 3rd, literally means “seasonal division” and commemorates the beginning of spring. Although it’s still very much winter for most of the country, it’s certainly fun to imagine that warmer temperatures are just around the corner.

Outside Japan, setsubun is perhaps best known as “the bean-throwing festival.”  This practice, known as mamemaki, involves throwing roasted soy beans out the front door or at a demon-masked individual while shouting, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Demons out, good fortune in!”) Following this ceremony, one is supposed to consume the number of beans that correspond to one’s age. According to my Japanese coworkers, other activities associated with setsubun include hanging a fresh iwashi (sardine) head from a holly leaf in the doorway (I suppose the smell further frightens the demons) and consuming ehōmaki, an oversized, uncut form of rolled sushi. The ehōmaki are to be consumed silently while facing the year’s auspicious direction. (This year’s direction is south-southeast. though I must admit I’m not entirely sure why. A good explanation can be found here.)

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Two Korean-Inspired Dishes

Gochujang

Gochujang - Korean Chile Paste

Besides the occasional meal at a local Korean restaurant Chicago, my first real exposure to that country’s cuisine was in the test kitchen of Saveur magazine, where I interned this past summer.  In preparation for the October issue, we were testing a variety of recipes for kimchi, all of them made entirely from scratch.  On the roster were the classic baechu (cabbage) kimchi, mild water kimchi (made with daikon, Asian pear, and scallions), spicy daikon kimchi, and stuffed cucumber kimchi.  (You can find recipes for all four on Saveur’s website.)  For the most part, I was in charge of testing the recipe for the cabbage kimchi, which involved chopping and mincing no less than twelve ingredients.  Suffice it to say that by the end of end of my stint, I felt pretty confident about my kimchi-making skills.

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