Local Kochi cuisine features a colorful array of ingredients
The local cuisine of Kochi Prefecture features a diverse lineup of food ingredients from the region’s forests, basin-shaped valleys, plains, rivers, and coastal areas, along with other factors such as the four seasons. The ingredients are processed/cooked in simple ways to maximize the natural flavor of each food ingredient. According to Matsuzaki, there are three major characteristics seen in these dishes.
1) Kochi dishes use a lot of vinegar
One characteristic in Kochi dishes is the use of vinegar. According to Matsuzaki, Kochi has a history of being Japan’s number one prefecture in terms of vinegar expenditure, as it uses vinegar frequently in its dishes. Furthermore, various types of citrus such as yuzu and bushukan are popular as “vinegar citrus” and used in place of vinegar. “This culture was born as a combination of improving shelf life when there were no refrigerators, and preventing the loss of appetite in a hot and humid climate.”
2) Feasts featuring fish
For Kochi, which faces the Pacific Ocean and where many types of fish can be caught, main dishes would often serve fish such as lightly roasted bonito, steamed sea bream, wrapped silver-stripe round herring sushi and whole mackerel sushi. Seafood is also frequently seen in sawachi dishes, which is a style of serving in Kochi.
3) Traditional dishes that are still served today
In Kochi, traditional foods such as shio-natto (salty fermented beans), which has been made from approximately 300 years ago in the Sagawa Basin area, Goishi tea, which is said to be the main product of the Tosa Clan during the Edo period (1603-1868), and other traditional foods such as kashi (acorn) tofu and sansho mochi (rice cakes with Sichuan pepper) are still enjoyed to this day. The reason for this, says Matsuzaki, “May be the remote location, which was isolated by the Shikoku mountain range for many years.”
Okyaku culture living on among the people of Tosa
Although there are many characteristics of Kochi cuisine, one unique feature of Kochi Prefecture food culture is the okyaku culture. In Kochi, a banquet is a friendly social function where participants freely eat food and drink without paying heed to hierarchical relationships.
The okyaku culture is related to the samurai method of honzen-shiki (formal-type meals) around 1800 during the Edo Period (1603-1868). During these meals, servings for multiple participants were frequently served on large, expensive platters. These platters are called sawachi, and the Tosa Clan issued a regulation to limit consumption forbidding the selling and purchasing of these sawachi platters. In other words, sawachi was something that was out of the reach of commoners. As time went on and the Meiji period (1868-1912) established equality for all people, affluent farmers and merchants started to seek expensive sawachi platters in pottery styles such as Imari, Kutani and Arita. Banquets featuring lavish food assorted on these plates where people would casually help themselves to the dishes, dine and make conversation freely became a standard practice. This is the origin of the current okyaku culture.
Sawachi dishes, which are essential to the okyaku culture feature beautiful assortments of blessings of the land and sea. There is a wide variety of sawachi dishes, such as nama sawachi platters featuring raw foods such as sashimi, and kumimono sawachi platters featuring sushi, simmered food, fish cakes, deep-fried food, fruit and sweets, and some platters featuring one main dish such as steamed red bream. According to Matsuzaki, the scale of banquets is expressed by how many sawachi platters are presented—a sign of how crucial sawachi platters are to the banquet culture of Kochi.
Sawachi banquets proceed with greetings and a toast, after which everyone freely helps themselves to the food while drinking with anyone and everyone. Before long, participants start to offer drinks and receive drinks in return from each other. According to Matsuzaki, “The okyaku culture of the past used to have not only banquet participants, but passersby were also allowed into the banquet room to enjoy food and drinks,” which is very surprising!
In the past, farm work used to be shared through groups called “yui,” and cooperatives within these groups called “shirugumi” used to help with work related to ceremonial occasions. However, yui and shirugumi ceased to exist due to changes in society. As they were no longer able to share work and help from preparation to tidying up, sawachi banquets moved out of homes to be held at venues such as hotels. However, Matsuzaki says, “Although the sawachi dishes were gone, dining while interacting with others still has the atmosphere of a “sawachi banquet” in a different style.”
Homemade Kochi cuisine
Of the many dishes of Kochi Prefecture, here are some that are still frequently prepared at home in daily life.
On a mission to pass down the food culture of Kochi
Matsuzaki, who was born during the Taisho period (1912-1926), believed that it was “necessary to enrichen lives through science” after the war, which pushed her to study culinary science at university. However, she notes that although we do benefit from science, “There is a sense of danger in modern society, in which children only know processed and ready-made food.” She established the Tosa Traditional Food Society in 2003. She also made proposals to the prefectural government to establish the Tosa Cuisine Inheritor system to hand down the food culture of Kochi Prefecture, along with the Association to Promote Tosa Sushi which aimed for the industrialization of Tosa Sushi (including Inakazushi) with cooperation from the private and public sectors, and both of these goals were later achieved.
Her activities in discovering ways to cook traditional Kochi food, and organizing them to be handed down to the following generations was highly regarded, and the Tosa Traditional Food Society was selected for the 27th Koshin Grand Prize (sponsored by the Kochi Newspaper Public Welfare Organization) on January 2020, resulting in her currently working on a book. Matsuzaki referred to one of the great gourmet cities of the world when asked about future prospects, saying “How about we aim to be the 'second San Sebastian' by launching various plans in both private and public sectors that maximize the appeal of the Prefecture’s food ingredients.” She had some powerful words to tell us, saying, “The senior age group needs to be the one to hand down the traditional food culture of Kochi as a culture and value to be preserved, so that younger generations will find interest in it.”
The local cuisine of Kochi Prefecture, handed down through the years, is still going strong thanks to the passionate people who love the region’s food and an inviting dining culture which allows warm interaction.
Writer : MAIKO KAWAMURA / CHIE UCHIGASAKI / Photographer : SATOSHI TACHIBANA
*Some of the images in this article have been provided by aforementioned organizations and the following website.
Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries website “UCHI NO KYODO RYORI （Regional Home Cooking）”
In December 2013, Japanese food was under the spotlight as it was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. On the other hand, factors such as the change in food diversity and home environments have caused the presence of Japanese food culture to gradually wane.
In order to enable community participation to protect the traditional food culture unique to each region all over Japan, a characteristic of Japanese food as registered in UNESCO, the database “UCHI NO KYODO RYORI (Regional home cooking)--Cherished recipes to be passed down to the next generation” has been launched, to hand down traditions to the next generations. The database features information such as the history, origins, recipes, and the regional backdrop that gave birth to these dishes.
We plan to expand the site to incorporate regional dishes from all 47 prefectures. Why not enjoy your unique regional home cooking?
Eriko Komiya (MAFF Chief of Food Cultures Office, Overseas Market Development and Food Cultures Division, Food Industry Affairs Bureau)
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