Nagaimo: The Wonderful Japanese Vegetable
Do you know what this is?
No, it’s not Bamm-Bamm’s club from the Flintstones… it’s the super vegetable known as the Nagaimo. Nagaimo is a type of yam that is highly nutritious and versatile in its usage. You can’t talk about Nagaimo without mentioning Aomori, as the prefecture is the top producer of Nagaimo in Japan, and Nagaimo can be found just about any produce section of the grocery store here. Peel away the tan skin and small hair-like roots of this vegetable to see its inner milky-white porous beauty that makes it a highly prized ingredient all over Japan. Most commonly grated to make tororo, a type of slimy white goo that is added to buckwheat noodles, soups, or bowls of warm steamed rice, Nagaimo can also be diced into cubes and added to salads to give it an interesting almost water chestnut like texture. Nagaimo can also be fried, roasted, stewed, and just about anything else you can imagine. It has a very fresh and less starchy taste when compared with a potato, so one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is by grinding it up with vanilla ice cream and milk to make a thick healthy milkshake. Nagaimo is rich in vitamin B1, dietary fiber, and many other nutrients. I’ve also heard that Nagaimo has a protein that may be useful in preventing the flu.
Anyway, I had heard about a restaurant in Aomori City that specializes in Nagaimo dishes: Tefūkin, so I was excited when I finally got the opportunity to try this place out. The chef is a master of Nagaimo cuisine and has published an excellent cookbook of just Nagaimo recipes.
Here is the sign, it reads “Tefūkin” – which is a strange name. The three Chinese characters mean hand, wind, and zither-like instrument (koto). What could it possibly mean?
Inside a charming interior welcomes you with old lanterns and antiques, giving a Taisho Romantic (the Japanese equivalent to Victorian) feel to the restaurant.
The owner has many season flowers and plants, as well as birds decorating the restaurant. There was even a recording of birds chirping in the background making for a calming, light, airy atmosphere.
This is Kogin Embroidery, a famous needlework tradition of the Tsugaru area.
A nice kettle keeps warm on a kerosene stove. A very heart and hand warming winter Japanese sight. A hot cup of tea is only a moment’s notice away.
I also noticed an antique accordion and a painting of an accordion. It turns out that the name Tefūkin, (hand-wind-zither), is an archaic word for accordion. You learn something new everyday, and at least the mystery behind the name of the restaurant was solved. Now it was time to eat… there were several dishes to choose from and since I went with a few friends, we choose to try all 3 dishes featuring Nagaimo. Each lunch special was a steal for 1000 yen.
“Cheese Gohan” (Nagaimo and Rice with Melted Cheese) Lunch. Complete with salad, soup, and pickles.
The aroma, color, texture and flavor of this is pure heaven for any cheese junky.
This is the “Korori Ishikoro” (Nagaimo sauteed in butter with croquette). Very savory and flavorful.
Now don’t let your eyes deceive you, this sushi dish “Hatsukoi” is not raw fish but in fact thin slices of Nagaimo painted with a clear, light, sweet sauce. According to the chef, it is the most popular dish and a must-try for the Nagaimo aficionado.
This dish, the “Mushi Buta” or Steamed Pork & Vegetables is made with Garlic Pork, a variety of pork raised in Aomori on a diet including the locally grown speciality, garlic. I thought I could taste the garlic, but I’m not 100% certain, it was amazingly tasty however. It wasn’t made with Nagaimo but is highly recommended anyway.
And what Japanese meal wouldn’t be complete without pickles? Here we have pickled radish and apple from Aomori Prefecture. The sweet and sour tastes were a refreshing match.
And for desert, a warm cup of fresh apple juice from Onizawa, a part of Hirosaki next to Mount Iwaki that produces excellent apples. Served in a square Tsugaru Laquerware coaster. It doesn’t get more Aomori than this…
For more information:
About Aomori Nagaimo (Aomori Prefecture)
Aomori Nagaimo (Aomori Products Export Promotion Council)
Restaurant Name: Tefūkin
Address: 368-8 Sawabe, Sannai, Aomori City
Getting There: Take a taxi from Shin-Aomori Station (5 minutes) or walk on foot (15 minutes)
Lunch Hours: 11 am to 2 pm
Dinner Hours: 5 pm to 9 pm (Reservation made 1 day in advance is required)
Closed on: Mondays
No English menu but you should be able to order any of the above dishes without any problems!