for most people in japan, tanabata is a time to go to festivals, eat food that comes on sticks, and drink beer or other refreshing beverages. for my friends, however, it is a time to go out in the middle of the nature, fire up the shichirins, and cook so much food that we could feed the russian army twice over.
everybody brought a little something to the party, and while we all thought what we brought was humdrum and average, somehow the sum of all of our dishes made for one of the most elegant and refined meals i have had in a long time. the following is a list, in order, of what we cooked.
1. matcha (抹茶). one of the members of our crew decided that today would be a perfect day to bring his tea ceremony set out to the bamboo forest. so he did. it was the first and most likely the last time i will ever see a man wearing a headband, farming clothes, and tabi (traditional split-toed boots) demonstrate tea ceremony. but nonetheless, he whisked away at the matcha with his bamboo whisk, and made us each a cup of tea. so for the first hour or so, we just sat drinking beautifully prepared high-quality matcha, eating onsen manju, and chatting away.
2. grilled corn on the cob (焼きとうもろこし). when the time came, we piled up some bamboo charcoal and fired up the grills. once we shucked the corn the cob, we slapped it on the grill. i was put in charge of turning it a little bit every two minutes. when it finally got close to being done, we drizzled some soy sauce over the top and gave each piece one more slow rotation. the result was succulent, sweet, smoky, and amazingly well-suited to the season.
3. grilled chicken (焼き鳥). once we tossed our corn cobs out in the field, we got out our knives and made some homemade bamboo skewers. salt and pepper chicken thighs, split green peppers, and chicken skin went on the grill. and once they were seared to perfection, we plated them, busted out the beers, and scarfed them down while they were still piping hot.
4. chashu (叉焼). the skewers were stacked and burned in the fire, and i finally got out the chashu i had spend ten hours making yesterday. this particular variation was marinated in a mixture of ground ginger, ground garlic, soy sauce, rice wine, mirin, sugar, black pepper, and hot pepper, then stuffed with chopped perilla before rolled and steamed for an hour. i sliced it nice and thick, gently stacked it on small serving plate, and popped it on the table for sampling. i wasn’t too sure how it would go over, but everybody was thrilled. we made a salad out of fresh lettuce, marinated onions, and okinawan seaweed to go with it.
5. sōmen (素麺). no summer japanese meal would be complete without chilled noodles. after a twenty minute hiatus to finish what was left of our beers, a seemingly unending bowl of high-quality, pearly-white sōmen was set on the table. we each mixed our own tsuyu, added thinly sliced green onions, ground ginger, and sliced perilla, and ate until we couldn’t eat any more. and then we had seconds.
6. salted grilled fish (塩焼き魚). once the coals had calmed down a little bit, we got out the pounds upon pounds of fish that were given to us by the nice old lady who owns the fishing gear shop we buy our bait from. once they were split and cleaned, we dressed them with a little bit of freshly ground bamboo-smoked salt and a smattering of black pepper, and blackened them on the grill. the inside was soft and oily; the outside was smoky and crispy. needless to say, i was a happy camper.
7. umeshu (梅酒). finally, we washed everything down with a glass of three-year-old plum wine.
let it be known that, when it comes to my weekends, i am jealous of no man. happy tanabata everybody. i hope your wishes come true.