February 6th is National Chopsticks Day. I love chopsticks because they are an extension of my hands. I use them not only as cooking and eating utensils but for a variety of tasks. I always encourage everyone to learn how to use them, and guarantee once you do, they become part of you. Therefore, I celebrate chopsticks day!
In Japanese, chopsticks are called hashi (箸 | はし). They are also known as otemoto (おてもと), a phrase commonly printed on the wrappers of disposable chopsticks. Te means hand and moto means the area under or around something. The preceding o is used for politeness. Disposable chopsticks which you snap apart are called waribashi (割り箸 | わりばし).
The length of chopsticks used for eating is based on the size of the user’s hand. This is not only for ease of handling but also, to look well-proportioned, i.e. looks! The average length for women is 20 cm and for men, 23 cm. For children, depending on their age, chopstick sizes are based on the length of their hand, plus a few centimeters.
Saibashi (菜箸 | さいばし) are kitchen chopsticks used in the preparation of food and plating. They are about 30 cm long and not designed for eating. Even longer ones, at 40 cm, ryoribashi (料理箸 | りょりばし) are used for deep-frying foods.
Since Japanese cuisine is eaten with chopsticks and not fork and knife, all foods are prepared in bite-size. Here is a very simple Japanese side dishes, a nimono (simmered dish).
Nimono is a simmered dish in Japanese cuisine. It generally consists of a base ingredient simmered in shiru (stock) flavored with dashi, sáké (optional), soy sauce, sugar, and mirin (optional). It is simmered in the stock until the liquid is absorbed into the base ingredient or evaporated. The base ingredient for a nimono is typically a vegetable, tofu, seafood, or meat, either singly or in combination (check out → nikujaga). Depending on the dish, stock can be further flavored with salt, vinegar, miso (soy paste), or other condiments.
Japanese Simmered Acorn Squash • Kabocha'no Nimono • カボチャの煮物
Recipe by: Fae’s Twist & Tango (fae-magazine.com)
• 300 gr (about ½ small) kabocha / acorn squash
Seasoning/ Stock A
• 2/3 cup dashi or water
• 2 Tbsp sugar
• 1 Tbsp light colored/usukuchi shoyu / soy sauce (or 2 tsp regular soy sauce)
• 1 Tbsp mirin (Mizukan brand offers non-alcoholic mirin)
Note: Above proportion of the seasoning may be adjusted to taste.
◊ Make an otoshi butadrop-lid (also called cartouche/parchment lid): Although there are wooden ones available on-line or in Japanese specialty stores, it may be substituted with a sheet of parchment-paper or aluminum foil, cut in the diameter size of the pot with a hole in the the center, for easy pick by chopsticks (see photo below).
◊ Cut the squash in half. Scoop the seeds and stringy pulp out of the squash cavities and discard. Cut into bite-sized pieces and bevel angle (mentori 面取り) each piece on both sides [see photo or watch the first 20 seconds of video → here]. This is done to avoid the vegetable pieces from falling apart at the edges, losing its shape, and also, to keep the broth clear. Carve designs on the skin too, if desired.
◊ In a medium-sized saucepan, add seasoning/stock A and swirl the pan to mix. Place the squash pieces skin side down and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, place the drop-lid (see photo below) and simmer for 5 minutes. Drop-lid ensures that the heat is evenly distributed and reduces the tendency for liquid to boil with large bubbles.
◊ Remove the drop-lid, add seasoning B, swirl the pan, put the drop-lid back and simmer for ~8 minutes more or until toothpick goes through the squash piece smoothly and there is still a tablespoon of stock left in the pan.
◊ Dish out and serve warm or at room temperature.
~ どうぞめしあがれ • Douzo Meshiagare ~
So, what’s cooking in your kitchen?