Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Eating Art: tea noodle handroll


Four more Eating Art recipes to go—think of it this way, I could have posted one recipe per week and it would take ¼ of the year to get through it…

Years and years ago, I was in Nara in one of the hottest Augusts on record. We wandered through the Daibutsuden, danced with the deer and then sought refuge in a lovely little restaurant that I would never be able to find again. My co-diner was not a great lover of Japanese food and basically only ate noodles during our trip. And, this little restaurant was known for its cha soba--cold tea noodles. The restaurant was filled with well dressed Japanese ladies and us dusty travellers. I ordered the cha soba and meditated on their fine, even texture. If I hadn't been so exausted, I might have been able to slurp more appropriately.

Tea house culture is something one sees commonly in Edo period (1615-1868) prints when the Shogun made the regional lords live in Tokyo, so that they were more occupied with lovely ladies and Kabuki than a coup d'etat. The Ukiyo-e or pictures of the floating world that emerged from the period show the sorts of affairs of Tokyo with tea scenes. In these scenes, women pour steeped tea and play the stinged samimasen. Cha Soba is often made with matcha, which is known for its use in the tea ceremony, drunk after being whipped. However, as I wanted my noodles to be inspired by art, I made mine with sencha (though in Japan, sometimes sencha can be used.)
I adore cha soba and somehow believed that I might be able to create soba noodles. Over the weeks that were preparing for the meal, these noodles became my white whale. I read various recipes about the proportion of buckwheat to water, about whether you can add egg (we didn’t), etc. Frankly, the dough was so much “add wheat, add a sprinkle of sencha” that I have no recipe. But, I will be trying them again.

However, I am posting them, because they ended up being a surprise hit of the dinner. (Almost as surprising as the Acorn Squash Kimchi.) The plan was to have the guests make their own rolls, so each guest received nori, a flat noodle served ice cold, shredded daikon also ice cold, shredded carrot, vinegar, and wasabi.

The noodles were not Tokyo perfect by any stretch of the imagination, however, they did have that tea sense. I was gratified that the guests liked it, even if it didn’t work out as perfect as I hoped.

We served them on pieces of balsa (we composted them after dinner) to evoke the traditional basket of cha soba.


Anonymous said...

how interesting - tea house culture. these looks so beautiful and simple. thanks for the lesson!

Maggie said...

I love reading all of the remaining dishes from your dinner. I've got to jump in and give homemade soba a try because these hand rolls sound wonderful!