By Kohei Aratani / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKYOTANABE, Kyoto — Ebiimo, a shrimp-shaped variety of tuber, is a specialty of Kyoto Prefecture and a great ingredient for simmered dishes, especially in winter. I visited Kyotanabe in the prefecture, where the ebiimo harvest was in full swing.
In early November, I could see large ebiimo leaves growing at a farm in the city. Surrounded by the leaves, farmer Tatsuo Okunishi, 82, was harvesting the plant.
With a scooping action, Okunishi was using a special three-pronged hoe to dig deep into the ground and lever the ebiimo out. When I gave it a try, I felt the tool rooting up the tubers. It was a pleasant sensation.
Various sizes of ebiimo were pulled up from the ground. A large ebiimo is as long as 20 centimeters. It is curved and striped, evoking the image of a shrimp.
Ebiimo has been produced in this region for 40 or 50 years and has been a precious source of revenue for farmers during winter. It is a popular ingredient for the local specialty imobo — ebiimo cooked with dried cod — and for zoni mochi soup, which is served at the New Year.
Many people in the area also put ebiimo in tonjiru — miso soup with pork and vegetables — as well as in oden — a hodgepodge of ingredients including fish cakes, eggs and vegetables stewed in broth.
Ebiimo has a strong but refined flavor. It is known for its stickiness, which prevents it falling apart while being cooked.
To produce fine shrimp-shaped ebiimo, it is important to add new soil to the land several times, according to Okunishi. “I’ve been growing ebiimo for 25 years, but it’s still difficult,” he said. The ebiimo harvest will continue until early next year.
To foster ebiimo farmers, the Kyotanabe branch of agricultural cooperative JA Kyoto Yamashiro launched a training school in 2012.
“So far, 20 people have graduated from the school and most of them are still producing [ebiimo],” said Yoshiyuki Ishida, an official of the Kyotanabe branch.
I visited an ebiimo collection site where the school held its eighth session this year. Okunishi served as a lecturer and four elderly men and women attended the session as students. Since this year’s first session opened in late February, students are learning how to produce ebiimo at farms and at JA’s facilities.
During the eighth session, the students were getting tips on growing finely curved ebiimo and how to preserve the seed tubers, among other things.
Okunishi explained practical techniques to the students. “Don’t wash ebiimo with water after it’s harvested because its color will change if you do,” he said. “You should put seed tubers in styrofoam boxes and make holes in the boxes.”
After the session, student Fumiko Fujisawa, 67, said: “Based on the things I learned, I want to grow [ebiimo] from next year. Ebiimo is Kyotanabe’s specialty.”
Ebiimo can be eaten in various ways. Okunishi said he enjoys it by sauteing it with butter or putting it in miso soup. He also mashes it to make croquettes. Simply boiling it with salt is also tasty. In winter, ebiimo is best matched with warm sake.
Kyo no Furusato Sanpin Kyokai, a public interest incorporated association, provides information (in Japanese only) on its website Saisai Kyoyasai Kurabu (http://kyoyasai.kyoto/brand_shop.html) about shops in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kinki region that sell ebiimo.
Call the association at (075) 325-0305 (in Japanese only) for more information.
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