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The Asian ApertureJapanese Summer Foods
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, August 8, 2011    Share

Growing up in the South Tampa area, I was always exposed to the intense heat and humidity of a hot Florida Summer. Even as a kid, going out to play baseball with friends or running around, you still longed for those times when you could just go hang out at the mall in an air conditioned environment or go to your local arcade, back when they were still around. I thought with all my years of putting up with the heat that I was ready for anything.

Not so.

When I first arrived in Osaka, in August 1999, the heat and humidity were just as bad as back home. Just walking to classes, I had to stop at a couple of vending machines between Makino Station and Kansai Gaidai, mainly to avoid dehydration. One thing that I quickly learned is that certain foods help your body out during the summer.

The first food to consume when the sweat breaks out on your forehead and you find yourself carrying a bottled water around everywhere, is soba. Soba are buckwheat noodles that can be served cold with a soy based dipping sauce. The idea is to slurp up the noodles, the louder the slurp the better.

During the Summer, I sometimes felt my energy levels dragging down. One way to provide a healthy dose of stamina is Unagi (eel.) The eel is grilled with a sweet eel sauce. Usually I like Unagi Don which is grilled eel served over rice. One bowl got me going and enabled me to explore Kyoto on the hottest day for hours and hours.

Another great choice is Hiyayakko which is chilled tofu. It is the easiest thing to prepare no matter how lazy you are. I would be even lazier and go into a cafeteria to buy it already made. Hiyayakko is just cold tofu with a variety of toppings. You just take the tofu out of the package, drain the water out, and add ingredients, such as, sliced onions, grated ginger, karashi (Japanese mustard,) and my own personal favorite, katsunobushi (dried bonito flakes,) with a dash of soy sauce.

Japan has many wonderful Summer vegetables that can be easily prepared or purchased. Try Kyuri, the Japanese cucumber, which is thinner and is often eaten unpeeled. Nasu or eggplant is another vegetable that is best served in the summer. If you grew up in the South like me, you will be delighted to find okra in Japan. Okra is usually eaten raw in salads and it can also be deep fried for tempura.
You have a variety of options with vegetables like vegetable curries, deep fried tempura, or raw. I enjoy visiting a Buddhist temple for shoujin ryouri, devotion cuisine. If you happen to be traveling in Kyoto and you are not sure where to eat, check out the Ryunaji Zen Temple for excellent vegetarian dishes such as Kyo yasai, Kyoto area vegetables.

Regardless of what you consume, drink lots of water, that helped me to avoid cons lapsing after hot afternoon shopping. Be aware that Japanese cup sizes are smaller. One time in Osaka at a curry house, I was so hot and sweaty that I ordered a large glass of water. The cup was no bigger then a paper coffee cup. So I offered to pay extra for the water pitcher. The waiter thought I was strange but I was so thirsty that I stuck the straw directly into the pitcher and drank that way. Interestingly, I was not charged extra for all that water. The bottom line is to stay cool and sometimes you have to be inventive. Take care.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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