[Akita Prefecture’s Local Delicacy, "Damako Nabe"]

Seri (Japanese parsley) is in season on supermarket shelves. Seeing the lush green celery, one of the seven spring herbs, I was reminded of a local delicacy called "damako nabe" that a friend of mine from Akita made for me when I was in university.

"Akita is famous for kiritanpo nabe, isn't it?" I said, "I guess we have 'damako nabe' at home," and she prepared it with all the ingredients and cooked it with great skill. The aroma of the rich broth made from Hinai Jidori chicken spread throughout the room, and the Damako Mochi, which had absorbed the chicken broth and vegetable flavor, warmed our stomach. It was as if an ordinary winter evening had become a special night with just one pot.

In Akita, children play "otedama (bean bags)," which is called "damako." Damako mochi is made by placing freshly cooked rice in a mortar, mashing it 50 percent with ground wood to make "han-goroshi," and then rounding it into dumplings with the palm of one's hand. Some say it is called "rice dumplings similar to otedama," or "damako," because it is so delicious that people eat it without saying a word. Damako nabe, which contains damako mochi, is said to have originated even earlier than kiritanpo, a dish prepared for entertaining the lord in the late Edo period. In the northern coastal areas of Akita, there is a custom of making and eating damako mochi by cooking freshly harvested rice.

Before the rice is cooked, vegetables are chopped, soup is prepared, and a mortar is on standby. Roll up the rice while dipping your hands in salted water to prevent it from falling apart. Ingredients, soup, and basic seasoning are the same as for Kiritanpo nabe. Chicken bones-based soup stock is seasoned with soy sauce and other seasonings, and chicken thigh meat, Japanese parsley, white onion, burdock root, maitake mushroom, and damaiko mochi are cooked in it. It is a nutritious way to take in meat, leafy greens, root vegetables, and mushrooms all at once, and it is also a great way to avoid having to go to the kitchen to prepare the rice for the end of the meal.

What are the things that a nabe warms up on a winter's day? The air in the room, the tip of the hand that holds the bowl, the core of the body, and even the soul. This year we had a snowfall rarely seen in Kyoto, and the lanterns and pots in the tsuboniwa garden were buried in pure white snow, with thin icicles growing on the eaves of the roof. As I roll up the small snowball-like dumako mochi, I feel a sense of hope in my heart that this season, which makes me want to eat nabe, is surely the coldest, and that a warm spring will come after that.

Ingredients for 2 to 3 servings:
(Ingredients for a nabe)
1 cup rice
1 chicken thigh
1 bag of Japanese parsley
1 white onion
1 burdock root
1 bag maitake mushroom
800 ml chicken broth (or equal amounts of water and about 1 tablespoon chicken broth stock)
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking rice wine)
A pinch of salt
Miso paste (to taste)

1. Put warm rice in a mortar and grind it with a wooden grinder until it becomes sticky, about 50%. Roll the rice firmly into dumplings about the size of a ping-pong ball with your hands dipped in salted water.
2. Cut burdock root into small pieces, soak in water, and drain in a colander. Cut the leeks into diagonal slices, the parsley into 4 cm pieces, and the maitake mushrooms into thin strips.
3. Put (A) in a pan, add chicken thighs and burdock root, cut into bite-size pieces, and simmer. Add damako mochi, white onion, maitake mushrooms, and Japanese parsley and heat through.

Kiya's Sukiyaki Pot #7
Ichiyougama's Mortar 19cm
Azmaya's Wooden Pestle