Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back in Japan (Iga - November 2010)...Donabe night in Iga

After 4+ hours of traveling by both Shinkansen and express bus, I arrived in Iga in Mie Prefecture. I was so excited to be back in Iga to meet the Nagatani family, who own Nagatani-en, the producer of authentic Iga-yaki products.

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From central Iga, it's another 25-30-minute driving to Nagatani-en. It's situated literally in the middle of the mountain. The entire area is filled with nature and the view is breath-taking. When I got to Nagatani-en's property, I wanted to say "Tadaima!" (I'm home!) Their historic buildings always feel so warm and makes me feel welcome.

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Their unique new colorful Mushi Nabe (donabe steamer) are so cute!

The dinner with Nagatani family took place at their exclusive dining space, "Omoya" again. This house is more than 200 years old and this is where everybody in the family grew up. Now it's used as a restaurant, where they take only 2 groups at a time (reservation only).

Everything is served in authentic Iga-yaki tableware made by Nagatani-en. And many dishes were cooked table-top with their donabe!

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Appetizer plate included karasumi (cured mullet roe) with fresh daikon, marinated egg yolk with tonburi (seeds of kochia scoparia plant), uni tofu (sea urchin custard), saba sushi, etc. They tasted so nicely with imo shochu. We also had aji sashimi.

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Donabe steaming time. Seasonal "Kumoko" (cod sperm) was such a delicacy...so creamy and sweet.

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Grilling time. My eyes were so wide open when the decadently plated Iga beef (one of the best beef of Japan...very small production), Iga matsutake, etc. were brought to the table. We cooked them on the special "far-infrared radiation" grill.

Iga rice (another speciality of the region) was cooked in the double-lid donabe rice cooker, "Kamado-san". The new crop local rice was so naturally sweet and perfectly chewy.

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In the picture are Chairman Yuji, his wife Takako, President Yasuhiro (older son), Keishi (younger son), and myself. Hattori-san took the picture. I can't put in words how special the night was, because the experience was simply beyond words. The dinner was not only so delicious, but also made us connect. I felt this was the power of "donabe". It's the concept of cooking together at the table with the beautiful Iga-yaki donabe. Everybody participated in cooking, drinking, eating, and having conversation in the same space for hours. Thank you, Nagatani-san, for the extreme generosity and welcoming me like I was part of the family.

Donabe makes happy nice people, because these donabe are made by the happy nice people.