Going native...Ainu Style...

Good morning everyone,

Well, yesterday turned out way better than I expected. There was a bit of rain in the morning and then it cleared up and the sun even came out a couple of times. Today is expected to see some rain after lunch and then Thursday and Friday will both be affected by the typhoon-but it's still difficult to say exactly how badly we'll be affected. The route does seem to be a bit south of us...so sorry Shikoku...but it's a strong one, so we should see heavy rain at times both days. Saturday and Sunday are looking nice though...ha ha!

Have you ever tried Ainu food? I never have...but I'd love to. And I'll definitely check this place out, if I ever have a chance, the next time I'm in Tokyo.

Ainu cuisine? The majority of the remaining Ainu population is to be found in Hokkaido, but its recipes can be found in Tokyo’s Okubo district, served at HaruKor — probably the only restaurant in Tokyo that specializes in Ainu cuisine.
ainu food harukor

In the Ainu language, the word haru means “food,” while kor means “to have,” and so the restaurant’s name expresses a wish for plentiful food.

HaruKor aims to re-create a cozy cise (traditional Ainu thatched house), decorated with wooden carvings, weaving and embroidery. “People can come here and ask us anything, without worrying whether it is taboo. Although certain customers are drawn here out of curiosity, they usually know very little about Ainu,” laughs Usa.

Ainu cuisine tends to use typical Hokkaido ingredients such as salmon, cod, deer and potato, but it differs remarkably from Japanese cuisine. The Ainu rarely ate raw fish or meat such as sashimi, so dishes are cooked in pots, boiled or grilled. The meals are seasoned sparingly with animal or fish fat, salt and spices, and without soy sauce or soybean paste.

ainu dish

The meals may not be elaborate, but that is no cause for disappointment. Ainu cooking methods bring out the flavor of the ingredients, as if in respect of nature.

If you have never eaten wild plants in Hokkaido, try boiled kitopiro, an Ainu favorite. Despite having a little bite, this plant has recently become popular among health-conscious people for its purported medicinal effects, such as relief from fatigue and suppression of cholesterol. Other options with less of a sharp taste are versions of Japanese nikumaki and gyōza  made with kitopiro.

The Ainu staple ohaw is a kind of hot-pot or soup with meat or fish and plenty of wild plants and vegetables, similar to a Japanese nabe. Cep ohaw is made with salmon, kam ohaw with meat and pukusa ohaw with kitopiro.

But the must-try is kampoca rataskep with Japanese pumpkin. Rataskep means “mixed and braised,” and the dish is made by mashing together boiled vegetables, beans and wild plants. This popular dish — eaten at Ainu ceremonies such as the Iomante bear sacrifice and the Icarpa commemoration of ancestors — combines the delightfully creamy texture of sweet mashed pumpkin with crisp roasted pine nuts and the mildly bitter taste of shikerebe, small black berries of the Amur cork tree. This is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat gastroenteritis, abdominal pain and various skin diseases, and the Ainu have also used shikerebe as a folk remedy for asthma and stomach ache.

What else? Imo-sito (baked potato dumplings) have wide appeal, while Japanese-style dishes such as deer steak and deer on rice are satisfying stomach-fillers.

ainu deer dish

I bet it is an amazing experience to enjoy, not only Ainu cuisine, but also the atmosphere of the traditional Ainu. I imagine it would be like a natural oasis in the urban jungle of Tokyo.

If anyone goes to Tokyo, please check it out and let me know how it was...

Have a great day!

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