Chirimen Sansho is produced by simmering chirimenjako (dried young sardines) and sansho (Japanese peppercorn) berries in soy sauce. This nostalgic food is said to have originated in Kyoto, where it remains a popular souvenir for visitors through present day. Today, we would like to introduce you to a variety of Chirimen Sansho that will completely change your image of this popular accompaniment for rice. It’s called Western-style Chirimen and is produced by Chirimen Sansho Chihiro which is located in Kyoto, the birthplace of Chirimen Sansho.
Designed to be an accompaniment for both western and Japanese foods, Western-style Chirimen is made from ingredients usually not found in Chirimen Sansho, such as macadamia nuts or white truffle oil. The inspiration behind Chirimen Sansho Chihiro comes from the experience of its founder, Chihiro Hasunuma’s twelve years of living in Hawaii.
Breathing new life into this traditional Kyoto delicacy, Chirimen Sansho Chihiro’s Western-style Chirimen is a gift that will delight everyone, from children to adults both in Japan and abroad.
The following are highlights of Chirimen Sansho Chihiro’s Western-style Chirimen.
In our quest to find the best tasting ingredients, we carefully researched production districts all over Japan to find the very best products. Our chirimenjako comes from Kyushu and the Setouchi region. Our sansho berries are from Asakura Sansho in Kyoto. Other ingredients we use include garlic produced in Aomori Prefecture and tomatoes from Kochi Prefecture.
A variety of ingredients not normally combined with chirimenjako such as macadamia nuts, white truffle oil and dried tomatoes create brand-new western flavors. This versatile product is not only for everyday use, but can be utilized for parties, snacks, or even dinners on special occasions.
This memorable packaging, created by a Japanese designer living in New York, captures the characteristics of both Japan and Hawaii. The designer is the daughter of one of Chihiro’s neighbors in Hawaii. Raised in Hawaii, she is now a designer based in New York, and created this heartwarming design utilizing her sensibilities as a Japanese woman.
We spoke with the founder of Chirimen Sansho Chihiro, Chihiro Hasunuma, about the delicate and unusual flavors of her Chirimen Sansho.
“It all stemmed from when my mother used to make Chirimen Sansho at home and give it to her friends as a gift. They were always delighted and would ask for more to give to their friends as a souvenir from Kyoto. I wanted to give more and more people the chance to taste Chirimen Sansho, so using my mother’s recipe as a base, I opened Chirimen Sansho Chihiro.”
One of the features of Chihiro’s Chirimen Sansho is its exquisite and delicate taste. She uses carefully-produced chirimenjako from Kyushu and the Setouchi region. Not too salty, it has a gentle taste because it is made with dashi (soup stock). Small and highly fragrant sansho berries from Asakura Sansho, which are perfect for eating raw, are added to give a slightly spicy accent. It is the epitome of Kyoto’s tsukudani style (simmered in soy sauce) cooking.
In comparison to the delicate taste, the boldness of the culminating flavors will certainly come as a surprise. The ingredients include macadamia nuts, dried tomatoes, white truffle oil and other foods not often used in Japanese cooking.
Chihiro told us that when her business first opened, they only offered two products, a traditional Chirimen Sansho and a variety that included cayenne pepper. During a sales visit to a department store, she was asked, “What defines you, Chihiro?” From that question, Western-style Chirimen was born.
She explained, “I lived in Hawaii for twelve years from 1996 to 2008. When I was thinking about the things that defined me, I recalled all the ingredients I used to cook with when I was there. I had Italian ingredients that were given to me from an Italian friend, and I used garlic for my son who didn’t like sansho berries. The flavoring of my Western-style Chirimen was a culmination of the memories of my everyday life in Hawaii.”
Just as it was created on a whim, Western-style Chirimen can be eaten however you choose. Traditionally, it is heaped on top of steaming, hot rice, but due to its dynamic flavors, this product often finds itself as an accompaniment for western foods. It works well with rich dishes like cheese, tofu, or even mashed potatoes.
We recommend adding Tomato Chirimen or Basil Chirimen to cheese risotto or mixing them with cream cheese to make rice balls.
Macadamia Nut Chirimen is a perfect accompaniment to beer or white wine. It’s also excellent to top salads along with black pepper and grated cheese.
Garlic Chirimen can be combined with cheese and fried in gyoza skin wrappers to make snacks.
One of things that makes Western-style Chirimen so unique, is that you can create an entire party menu around the dishes you discover while using it.
Chihiro also gave us a look into her future aspirations. “I took inspiration from my mother, who made Chirimen Sansho so she could see the smiles on the faces of her friends. Now, we would like to continue to develop these unique products to see those same smiles on the faces of my customers. We would like to make even more unique flavors so that they could tell us how delicious they think they are.”
This revolutionary taste comes from not only protecting the long-standing traditions of Kyoto, but also boldly utilizing her experience of living abroad. This luxurious Chirimen Sansho came to fruition through one woman’s journey to “discover herself.” It is a perfect gift to share with someone you love.
Writer : YOKO AOYAGI / Photographer : CHIE MARUYAMA
*Some of the images posted on our website have been provided by those whom we inter-viewed.
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