Nearly 300 years ago, the city of Ota, Japan, began aqua-farming of seaweed to make nori sheets.
Branches of bamboo or trees of that area were placed into the shallow waters in the autumn. This special seaweed grew on the branches. Since the waters in the area were shallow, very tall “geta” or wooden clogs that looked like stilts were used to harvest the seaweed that were growing on the branches. The people of Ota City were kept busy harvesting the seaweed in wooden boats, cleaning small batches by hand and removing tiny fish and debris, then chopping the seaweed, placing them in a wooden block on a bamboo mat, like the mats we use to roll sushi, then when dry enough to have formed a sheet, placing the sheets on bamboo mats and allowing them to dry in the sun. Ota City became known as having the best nori in all of Japan, and many other coastal areas of Japan started to take up the nori making industry.
However, in December 1962, the farming areas by the sea were reclaimed for the expansion of Haneda International Airport. To think we landed on the same area that once grew the best seaweed for nori!
The area of Ota City is still known for its nori and, in fact, we stopped by a shop that was 300 years old, selling nori and green tea called Otaku. The window displayed tea pots and tea cups of various shapes and sizes. As we walked in, we noticed the different grades of nori sheets. The least expensive is for making maki-zushi. The good quality nori sheets were to eat, starting from 540 yen (about $5.50) and working its way up to the most expensive at 2,100 yen (about $22) for 10 sheets. Otaku was a nori dealer of the old times and continues to purchase and sell nori from all over Japan as they did so for 300 years.
The clerks were very helpful and gave us samples of the least and the most expensive nori so we could taste the difference. She said these sheets were “motainai,” or waste, and would not be used to make sushi. We could tell there was a difference in color and taste, the most expensive being the darkest and with the most seaweed taste.
There was furikake to scatter on rice, tsukudani or cooked nori, shredded and strips of nori using every bit of the nori. In the past, they even made paper with the seaweed that was not used to make nori.
In April 2008, Omori Nori Museum opened its doors to tell Ota City’s nori story. The museum was built by the local people of the area who wanted everyone to know that their city was the birthplace of nori making.
Nori is a great health food. It has more calcium than one serving of cheese, more iron than beef, and more protein than eggs, and one sheet of nori has as much omega-3 fatty acids as in two whole avocados! In old Japan, it was thought to treat cancer, lower cholesterol, shrink goiters and tumors. It was used to detoxify the body of heavy metals, reduce water retention and helped with losing weight.
It was also said to reduce acne and treat dry skin. So keep eating sushi, musubi with nori, and furikake. Nori is great for your health.
Here is a recipe from The Seaside Restaurant for their award-winning furikake salmon from my cookbook, “Aunty Audrey’s Big Island Eats:”
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread over bottom of shallow pan:
1 cup furikake
Dredge in furikake:
2 (8 to 9 ounces) salmon fillets
Heat medium-sized frying pan over high heat. Add:
2 tablespoons canola oil
Sear salmon fillets on both sides. Transfer seared salmon to parchment-lined pan, bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until fish is cooked through. Meanwhile, make teriyaki sauce and wasabi mayonnaise:
Bring to boil in a small pot:
2 cups soy sauce
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 tablespoons mirin
Mix in a small bowl till no lumps:
1 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup cold water
Add to teriyaki sauce, stir till thickened, simmer sauce till consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat, set aside.
Mix together to form smooth paste:
2 tablespoons wasabi powder
2 tablespoons water
Mix together with:
1 cup mayonnaise
Place in squirt bottle. Set aside.
Pour 1/4 cup of the teriyaki sauce in the middle of serving platter. Place the furikake salmon fillets on top of the teriyaki sauce, then drizzle wasabi mayonnaise around the salmon.
The third annual Puna Culinary Festival has already stated and will run through Saturday, Sept. 14, with Taste of Pahoa taking place on Friday, Sept. 13. Check out which restaurants in Pahoa town are participating with special menus and dishes.
The PupuPalooza cook-off will be held from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, at Kalani EMAX. Setup and judging is at 2 p.m. with more than $500 in cash and prizes available for the winners of the Suisan People’s Choice Award, Kings’ Shops Best Overall Pupu, Best Presentation, Most Creative, and Best Use of Local Products. Check out www.kalani.com for more details.
Hawaii Island United Way’s new cookbook, “An Evening in Paradise with Mayor Billy Kenoi,” is a collection of recipes by the employees of the County of Hawaii. Hot off the press, call the HIUW office at 935-6393 to purchase your copy for $15.
Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.