Obanzai: Kyoto Home Cooking

April 14, 2009

by Maya Nogami

In Kyoto, people call the daily meals cooked in their own home, obanzai. It is similar to the home cooking of other regions. However, some dishes are different because they use Kyo-yasai, Kyoto-grown vegetables, or use traditional Kyoto tsukemono, which are a type of pickles.

Recently in Kyoto we can find many restaurants that serve obanzai. However, a long time ago it was just simply the daily meals, and people usually ordered special dishes from a shidashi-ya, a home delivery service, when visitors came.

Obanzai has its origins in folk wisdom. A long time ago there was not enough food, so people had to use everything they could eat. Therefore, they used the skins of vegetables, pieces of dried bonito after it was used for soup stock, and so on. This is characteristic of obanzai. Also, using seasonal ingredients is an important aspect of obanzai. This is because a long time ago people could not get food out of season because there were no supermarkets or convenience stores like now. Moreover, there were no modern appliances such as electric refrigerators, so people had to quickly consume food while it was fresh. So people created various types of obanzai using the same ingredient.

Anyway, even though obanzai is the home cooking of people in Kyoto, nowadays the style is changing.

In fact, there are many obanzai restaurants, and visitors go there to eat obanzai as a representative food of Kyoto. Moreover, there is the chance to learn how to cook obanzai when people visit Kyoto.

As I have written, people emphasize the relationship between seasons, customs, and events with obanzai ingredients. For example, in July, hamo (a type of eel) is a very popular ingredient of obanzai, and it is considered a delicacy. (As an aside, during the Gion Festival in July, people in Kyoto eat many hamo dishes, so this festival is also called the Hamo Festival.)

The following recipe is for Satsumaimo (sweet potato) no Amani.

l Satsumaimo (sweet potato)
l Sugar
l Mirin (sweet sake for seasoning)
l Salt

How to cook:

1. After washing the sweet potato, cut it into slices of about 1.5 cm.
2. Soak the slices in water, and change the water 2 or 3 times until the water is no longer cloudy.
3. Boil the sweet potato with sugar, and after the sweet potato becomes soft, add sweet sake for seasoning and a little bit of salt.

However, if you’d like to enjoy tasting many different kinds of obanzai, there are some restaurants in Kyoto that serve obanzai dishes as a smorgasbord. One such restaurant is Gyaatei in Arashiyama. At lunchtime you can try about 30 different types of obanzai, such as tofu dishes, boiled and seasoned dishes, and miso soup, as part of a smorgasbord. (The cost is 1,980 yen, and you can eat for one hour.) Or you can buy obanzai at some supermarkets.

If you want to try real authentic traditional Kyoto home cooking, why don’t you taste obanzai?

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