Monday, October 02, 2006

Mame meditation

Japanese edamame, or young soy beans in their pods, have practically entered the English lexicon, but I doubt many have heard of sakana-mame, a type of heirloom edamame that is grown in the big rice producing region of Niigata. It's called sakana-mame because the delicate smells that waft from the beans while boiling is good enough to accompany one's cup of sake. Niigata people evidently have a special flair when to comes to naming beans -- another variety of edamame is called yunayo which means "don't tell," that is don't tell your otherwise industrious and frugal daughter-in-law, since everybody knows that you can't keep a woman away from beans.

In Ozu Yasujiro's classic Tokyo Story there is a comical scene where the shrill and tight-fisted hairdresser daughter is sitting at breakfast with her lazy and gourmand husband who comments on the tastiness of beans. His appreciative chopsticks go back and forth until finally she snatches the bowl away saying, "stop it! it's bad to eat so much!" then proceeds to rapidly pick at them herself.

Is it only Japan where bean-eating is considered essentially a female activity, like knitting or gossiping? I do think there is a something meditative about the act of eating beans, perhaps it is the repetition of small bites and gestures, that would encourage the kind of circular logic that supposedly characterize such women's talk.

I remember my grandmother, an expert bean-cooker, bringing out a bowl of black kuromame beans saying, "this batch is a success." I never found out exactly what her standards were but I think it had to do with the plump appearance of the beans and shiny black skins which had not shriveled during the braise. We would sit around the warm kotatsu, four generations of women (my grandmother, my mother, me, my baby daughter,) drinking green tea, nibbling the beans, chatting about everything and nothing.

Whenever I'm in Tokyo, I like to go to the Mamegen store in Azabu-Juban and stock up on bean treats. It's a veritable bean paradise; neatly packaged little bags of daizu (dried soy bean), soramame (Japanese broad bean) and endomame (green bean) beckon from all sides, colorfully and deliciously seasoned with miso, sesame, plum, wasabi flavors and more. (There are also peanuts and almonds, and flavors like coffee and yogurt.) But of-course the one that gives me that warm fuzzy feeling are the lightly sweetened kuromame black beans from Tanba. Nutritiously irreproachable, it's the ideal munchy for long autumn nights, conducive to pensive pastimes like moon-gazing.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog and wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your entry on bento boxes. How interesting! Please keep writing. :)

2:47 PM  
Blogger motoko said...

Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the bento post -- it's really a whole universe!

10:07 AM  
Blogger rosa said...

I just found your blog - and now have found this very interesting post. Thanks so much for this information - I'd never read anything like this before. No idea that eating beans was considered a female activity!

3:45 PM  

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