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What Gaijin Eat: Kinpira Makizushi

Kinpira SushiRenkon Sushi

Its been a while since I last gave readers a peak into the diet of the average gainjin in Japan, but today I am taking a break from my busy schedule to catch up with some past meals. A few weeks ago, on two separate occasions, we had some home-rolled vegan sushi that keeps your bowels "firm but flexible". Only slightly different, they are presented here together.

Kinpira Sushi #1

Kinpira is a style of Japanese cooking that could be described as "stir-fry of stick-shaped veggies". A search for "Gobo Kinpira" on google yields many results, but none that I have read tell the interesting background, its Viagra-like properties, or speak of the special place kinpira holds in the hearts of macrobiotic practitioners.


Most know kinpira as a delicious mix of sauted gobo, carrots, and red peppers. To macrobiotics, however, it is a fundamental well-balanced dish that can be kept in the refrigerator to be eaten every day, when in season, to "clean your blood" and keep you strong. Gobo, the main ingredient, is considered very "yang", and is said to be great for helping men build stamina. In fact, the name comes from a popular tale told in a traditional form of Edo-period theater called Jyoururi which tells of a hero named Kinpira, son of famous sumo wrestler, Kintaro. The story relates Kinpira's adventures, fighting evil with the help of his incredible strength and stamina.

Tomoe's kinpira, being closer to the macrobiotic style, does not use red-pepper - a "yin" member of the egg-plant family that originates in warmer climates and is said to have an overall cooling effect on the body. Instead, it is comprised of the following:

gobo (burdock) is high in fiber so we have really clean bowels in our house. It's "yang" power is said to make the body firm, and make men more manly.

Wikipedia has this to say:

In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet [...] The root contains a fair amount of gobo dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is also low calorie.

The root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienne/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes.

I highlighted that last sentence because Tomoe disagrees with the "soak-it" method that has become standard in modern Japanese cooking. Instead, she chooses to reduce the bitterness by cooking it longer, preserving the flavor and nutrients that would be lost through soaking.

renkon (lotus root) (photo) has a long history of medicinal and religious uses. Macrobiotics likes this root because it is shaped similar to string of sausage links - representing both expanding (the meaty part of the sausage) and contracting (the twists between sausages) traits (in macrobiotics "yin" is expansion, and "yang" is contraction). This is supposed to help body cells be "flexible" as well as "firm".

Perhaps the most interesting trait of renkon is its ability to help tighten loose bowels - a result of eating too much ice-cream in the summer - making them bowels "firm but flexible". Another traditional medicinal use is as a throat medicine. In fact, there are still renkon candies available in Japan.

A great trait of renkon is that, depending on the way it is cut or cooked, it can take on many different textures - sometimes sticky and gooey, sometimes creamy like mashed potatoes, and sometimes chewy.

Carrots are carrots, but don't forget the stems and leaves which are even better than the root (orange part) at promoting blood-cell growth. (In Japan the stems are often fried as tempura)

Ginger pickled in umeboshi juice. While pickled ginger is often eaten with sushi, the ginger played an even more important role this time because the rice was "plain" rice instead of the vinegar rice normally used for sushi. The ginger added some vinegary-ness to it.

All the veggies are cut into stick shapes of various sizes. According to macrobiotics, thinner sticks are "yanger" and good for "yin" people who tend to be anemic. "Yang" people (perhaps suffering from allergies or ulcers) are better off eating thicker "yin" veggie sticks.

Soy Sauce is used to add flavor to the saute. Tomoe used some of her home-made soy-sauce, which will be the subject of a future "What Gaijing Eat".

Making the Sushi

Makizushi PartyMakizushi

Once the masculinity inducing kinpira is ready, the real fun begins... rolling the sushi. Sushi rolling parties, such as the one you see above with Tomoe and the birds, are not uncommon in Japan, especially when trying to entertain a group of children with a relatively simple meal.

Instead of sushi-rice, ours contained a gen-mai cooked with akaendo red peas, which are often used in Japanese sweets.

The final ingredient is shiso leaves. This herb, from the mint family, adds a nice refreshing touch to the sushi.

Kinpira Sushi #2

Veggie Sushi
Another variation of this sushi is shown in the photo above. This time it included two more unique ingredients:

Aburaage: Ours is made from domestic soy-beans and natural sea-water nigari - instead of the chemically refined magnesium usually used today to cut corners along with silicone-oil which is used in mass-production to eliminate the bubbles in the tofu. Reducing bubbles the "traditional" way requires slow-cooking and more attention.

Okahijiki with ume-boshi vinegar - an anti-bacterial juice sometimes used to clean kitchens. Okahijiki gets it's name from the fact that it looks like seaweed (hijiki), but grows on land (oka). Originating on sandy, saline beaches, it is now cultivated in Japan, but some species have become invasive in other parts of the world including, according to Wikipedia, the wild west.

Tumbleweed has naturalized to the point where it is regarded by many American people as native, changing the North American Great Plains plant community forever. It is controlled with mass applications of herbicides. Amusingly, tumbleweed is such a common symbol in Westerns, where it is used to indicate an abandoned area, that it is generally associated with the American Old West, and western films, despite its Ukrainian origin.
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About "What Gaijin Eat"
Other things Gaijin Eat:
What Gaijin Eat: First Harvest Sweet Potato Pie
What Gaijin Eat: Grain is Good
What Gaijin Eat: Kuroirigenmaiko Coffee
What Gaijin Eat: Nameko Soba
What Gaijin Eat: Imomochi Gnocchi

Veggie Sushi