Lunch at the Sasakis’
Enjoy a visit at the Sasaki-ke Family Traditional Residence to the fullest (featuring local cuisine).
My phone rang the other day. A group of friends was thinking about going to the Sasaki-ke Family Traditional Residence, and they were wondering if I would like to join them. Rather than just sightseeing, though, it was the whole package that they had in mind, and that included getting ourselves the home-made lunch offered at the site.
Now, one does not simply turn down an invitation to dine at the nationally designated Important Cultural Property, and an apple of the eye of local architecture lovers at that. So, fast-forward a couple of days, I hopped in a friend's car and off we went. We took a turn from the main road towards Kama Area, and after several twists and turns, there it is. Located somewhat out of sight, the traditional residence was waiting for us, ready to show a glimpse into the islanders' past.
It wasn’t the first time I pushed open one of its three sliding doors or took off my shoes to step into tatami-floored rooms. Being ushered to the Chanoma Room (living room), however, and welcomed with a cup of hot tea was a novelty experience. I wasn’t a visitor anymore at that moment; I was a valued guest of the household, about to receive hospitality of the local people.
So, what was on the menu?
First, my friends and I were treated to two types of quality home-made sushi. But they didn’t look exactly the same as what I was used to from my neighbourhood sushi restaurant. Prepared with no nori (seaweed) at all, the local variation of oshizushi, or pressed sushi, didn’t take the form of a single block of rice topped with a piece of fish. At this house, the sushi served has a curious shape (see the photo) and is sprinkled with both hard-boiled egg yolk and sweet fish flakes. Then there were the rolls. But wrapped in the nori was sazae gohan – rice cooked with thinly sliced turban shell sazae, a popular dish on the islands. The former was surprisingly sweet and the latter was pleasantly savoury…I think all of us went for seconds. (Some of us might have taken thirds.)
Next came the assortment of simmered food often seen in Japanese cuisine. There were shiitake mushrooms, edible kelp konbu with its umami flavour and bamboo shoots takenoko, just to name a few. Those familiar with these dishes ate to their heart’s content, while others took it as an ample opportunity to try out new things. I helped myself to mōzuku seaweed, known for its anti-ageing properties.
The course ended with an Oki Islands speciality – a sazae turban shell in all its glory, served in a simple broth.
After the meal, the staff invited us to take a look around the residence. We admired the fine woodwork and peered into nooks and crannies. Being shown some of the tools and devices the islanders had used to make their lives easier, we could imagine the room bustling with life, the inhabitants going about their daily business.
At last, it was time to leave. We put our shoes back on, while the staff piled us with mandarin oranges, the dessert we were too full to finish. With pockets full of fruits, we exchanged our thank yous. I stepped outside, feeling happy, like I had just visited a friend.
Author: Izabela Raczynska