April 13, 2010
by Mayo Yoshikawa; Yuka Minato
Kyoto’s Scallion: Kujo Negi
Kyoto’s vegetable fields are mostly brown in winter because many edible plants cannot withstand the cold. However, you may also find some beautiful dark green sections of the fields in Kyoto. Do you know what the source of that color often is? It’s kujo negi, the Kyoto scallion or bunching onion. Winter is a key part of its growing season: between mid-November and February or March.
This multi-stalked, non-bulbing Japanese green onion is one of the kyo yasai, or traditional vegetables in the Kyoto region. It is soft and juicy, with a somewhat sweet flavor that goes well with many dishes. In winter, the interiors of kujo negi become slightly viscous and even tastier.
Originally, scallions came from China. And it has been said that scallions are good for anyone who has caught a cold because the onion warms the body, helping us to recover from fatigue. In addition, it enhances metabolism, contains vitamin A, is rich in vitamin C and carotene, and it has a general health-promoting power.
Green onions have a long history in Japan. They have been cultivated since the Edo period (1603-1868). We call them kujo negi because they are mainly grown in Kujo, the southern part of Kyoto.
There are two types of scallions in Japan. The eastern variety has a larger white stalk than the western one. Kyoto is located in western Japan, so most of the kujo negi is green. This makes it especially soft and sweet.
For Home Gardening
If you live in the USA, you can also grow and eat kujo negi in your country. The Kitazawa Seed Company of Oakland, Californiais the oldest seed company in America that specializes in Asian vegetables. It has been in business since 1917, offering many kinds of Asian vegetable seeds, and you can buy by phone, fax, mail, or directly through their website. It’s really convenient. So you can grow some kujo negi right in your home garden.
By the way, carrots will grow well with these green onions, but please avoid planting beans, peas or parsley nearby since they are repellants.
Yorozuya is a famous shop in Kyoto for negi udon — thick udon noodles in soup with scallions. That’s because the main dish that they offer is quality negi udon. As you can see in this picture, scallions are one of the main ingredients and surprisingly, each bowl contains seven or eight kujo negi. The owner uses scallions grown in Fushimi (Yodo). It’s really good; we thought green onions were a little too pungent to eat a lot, but kujo negi are special and have a mild taste, so we can enjoy a large serving of them at one time.
Kyoto Scallion Menu
· Japanese nabe/hot pot: There are many kinds of nabe in Japan, most of them containing sliced green onions.
· Sukiyaki: beef cooked in an iron skillet together with vegetables and bean curd (tofu)
· Miso Soup (garnished with scallions)
· Pasta (famous for being healthy)
· Nutaae: boiled negi salad seasoned with vinegar and miso. It pairs very well with fish. Please have fish, rice and kujo-negi first and finish by adding stock to your rice. That way, you can enjoy the dish in two different ways.
There are many kinds of throat drops all over the world. In Kyoto, there are also many kinds, but one of them tastes like Kyoto vegetables, for example, sweet pepper, eggplant and of course kujo negi. We bought some onion drops in Gion!
Someone once said, “An onion can make you cry but there’s never been a vegetable that can make a person laugh.” Perhaps that’s true, but Kyoto’s bunching onion, the kujo negi, whether it is made into a candy or sliced into soup or sukiyaki, can bring a smile of pleasure to one’s lips!