February is an atypical time of year for a trip to Japan but for the true epicure, there is much to enjoy in the off-season adventure of First Spring. Late winter delicacies, particularly those harvested from the cold ocean waters, will delight a devotee of Japanese cuisine.
Several years ago I wrote about the nori fields of the Ariake Sea for The Art of Eating magazine. Over the course of the 6 month winter growing season I visited the area several times to see all aspects of nori’s evolution from spores propagated in oyster shells to planting fields of nets in the tidal waters. I saw nighttime harvests, processing facilities, and attended auctions. Friendships formed over the course of these visits, with aqua farmers and most notably with Tsunehiro Kawahara, a nori buyer with an unusually refined understanding of nori’s flavor.
The future of high quality nori faces a lot of challenges, from environmental changes to reduced appreciation and demand. But excellent nori is just that, truly excellent, and Kawahara san and I share a strong desire to proselytize its delights. With his support the guests of February’s First Spring salon session will have unprecedented access to the inner workings of how one of Japan’s most recognizable foods is grown and processed.
We’ll travel to the Ariake Sea and board an aqua farmer’s boat to journey out to the vast nori growing fields. We’ll learn about the tides and estuaries that make this such a favored area for cultivating high quality nori and about the seasonal cycle of this delicate crop.
Back on land we’ll tour a processing facility where nori is formed into the rectangular sheets that are sold at auction. We’ll continue on to Kawahra san’s store and see the final drying and roasting process. He will guide us through a tasting as we fine tune our palates to understand the elements of taste and texture that define quality nori.
It’s crops like nori, and excursions like this that make the First Spring salon session a perfect adventure for the pro, semi-pro, amateur, or enthusiast who wants to take a deep dive into one of Japan’s finest flavors and meet some of the stewards of Japan’s culinary culture.
Back in Mirukashi, we’ll learn more about how to work with nori in the kitchen. We’ll mix extremely rare and hyper seasonal strands of namanori raw nori with nanohana rapeseed blossoms as we indulge in a selection of February’s invigorating flavors together. Meals will begin with a plate of thinly sliced fugu pufferfish or pearly white hirame Olive flounder sashimi alongside a bottle of atsukan warmed sake. We’ll deep fry freshly foraged fukinoto butterbur buds and taste the flavors of spring breaking from winter.
Come experience first spring and taste a side of Japan that few get the chance to experience.