I came across a recipe online many years ago for a curry of mustard greens. By chance mustard greens were in season and I bought them not for onigiri, as the Japanese use them, but for Sarson Ka Saag. Since then I’ve sampled dozens of recipes, which don’t vary much.
Mustard greens aren’t popular here, so when they come into season I buy them in bulk to freeze. I stem them and blanch the stemmed leaves from the stems separately. I prepare the dish with the tender parts of the leaves for guests and use the leftover stems for when I make it just for myself — either way, Sarson Ka Saag is a treat.
The species of mustard greens that we can purchase is less pungent than what I’ve eaten in India and the states, so unless I need to stretch the dish, I make it with only mustard greens whereas typically it’s 1:1 or 1:2 mustard greens:spinach.
Many recipes will finish the dish with a temper of onions, tomatoes, spices but if I’m making this for myself I omit that extra step because I’m too impatient to wait. However,if I’m serving them with the corn roti (that’s most popular to eat with them) I make the effort — corn and mustard greens have an affinty with each other, which is why many recipes add corn meal the curry to thicken it.
This is the recipe I most often come back to. For me, I don’t need extra spices. I wan to enjoy the the flavor of the greens as directly as possible.
Sarson Ka Saag
Tier one (you must use)
Mustard Leaves – 2 bunches (approx 3 lbs)
Spinach – 1 bunch (approx 1 lb)
Water – 2 cups
Oil – 1 Tbsp or ghee
Onions – 1 1/2 medium, finely chopped
Tomatoes – 2 medium, finely chopped
Tier two (suggested)
Ginger – 1 Tbsp, minced
Garlic – 1 Tbsp, minced
Salt – to taste
Red Chili Powder – to taste
Garam Masala – 1 tsp
For Garnishing (Seasoning):
Oil – 1 Tbsp
Onion – 1/2 medium, chopped in big chunks
Tomato – 1 medium, chopped in big chunks
Tier three (optional)
Corn meal (for thickening)
Stem the mustard leaves and blanch them in boiling salted water for 2 – 3 minutes, drain, cool with running water or in an ice bath to stop the cooking. When cool enough to handle squeeze them over a bowl collecting the liquid. Rough chop the mustard greens and set aside.
In a large kari, wok, or skillet heat the ghee/oil and add cumin and when you hear the characteristic pop add the hing, quickly followed by the onions. When they brown add 1/4 of water and reduce until the oil comes out. (see note here)
Add the garlic and chili paste, the green and red chilies, turmeric, corriander powder and cook for 1 or 2 minutes and add is you’re using fresh tomatoes add them now, if not add the chopped mustard greens and mix the onion mixture into the greens well. At this point add the canned tomatoes, if using, and guage the water level. The flavors need to meld so there should be enough to make it slightly soupy. Add up to 1 cup of water or some of the mustard juice you pressed out and cook for 20 minutes to reduce the liquid and bring it to the consistency you would like to serve it.
During the last five minutes add the garam masala.
Okayama city is bisected by the small river you see, a footpath on either side and small bridges every block. Along the paths in either direction are statues. Some are of Greek gods, other abstracts, still others and then more on top of that. Around the city are memorials to artist, athletes, (respected) politicians, businessmen and notable people from the city. The dance done, people went out for supper and this very large metropolis was still for about an hour.
The rain had turned to occasional drizzle. The clouds broke — occasionally. I walked the path alongside the river during that hour, had supper, then joined the now flowing crowds towards the very large river this samurai city had been centered around for fireworks.
And so there was a festival in Okayama where groups of friends, community groups, alumni and students — any assemblage of any kind is welcome — form a kind of dance troupe between 30 – 100 members and perform to given theme to one of a dozen specific tunes. They follow behind a small truck blasting their tune down kilometer long shopping arcades, or city streets closed off. For hours and hours they dance before moving to the next venue.
To keep relevant cities take whatever celebrity happens their way and find a way to make people take notice. It could be the 1000 year old rituals in Nara or this newer variant of dance, a variation of the Awa Odorti in (nearby) Shikoku. Okayama’s celebrity runs round Okayama Castle and Momotaro leading here to the Momotaro Matsuri.
The story is based around the legend of an historical event. In short, a group was pillaging the rural poor and a man gathered forces to attack and won. What’s interesting is how the story changes over time:
In the original story, which you can still find in bookstores, an old woman eats from a magical peach and regains her youth, beauty, virility. When her husband does the same his potency leads to a fruitful end: They have a child and name him Momotaro (Peach Boy). The story is retold sans fertility, youth, vigor and the old childless couple find a giant peach floating down the river, which happens to have a baby inside. It’s the WWII version, no longer available anywhere, that packs verve aplenty. Momotaro is changed into an allegory for the war.
Momotaro is Japan.
The animals in the story who help him are the Japanese people.
The ogres/devils they fight are the US.
That version is not widely known now. I happened on it years ago when researching the symbolism in the story. It is a fantastic teaching tool, an example of forgotten and manufactured meanings. Remove the mask to find the story underneath, or dress it up differently to tell what you need to tell.
So what follows are photos from one of the hundreds of dance troops performing around the city. Each dance tells a story but under the swashbuckling or romance you can find the true nature of a great people. Watch carefully. They move in unison. Young and old; engaged in all fields or retired, or still in school; cross dressed or plainly one or the other, they are a people who endeavor to move as one.
I would like some advice.
In this particular photo I wanted to invert the role of father and mother. Working with children I hear almost exclusively of the women in young peoples lives. Fathers are something like a weekend treat, or depending on the relationship, a Sunday school sermon when all you want to do is play. This couple was sitting outside one of the areas the dancers I mentioned previously pass. The mother in her almost defensive posture, broad hipped, scanning the crowd; the father coddling their child with rugged hands, thick forearms, and a gentle demeanor. They were very friendly and their sizes inverse from what you’ll imagine from this photo. But how to crop it?
I like the above; however, the broader photograph provides a context and puts the man in the center of four women, which articulates something to me. There’s no right or wrong, but I can’t decide which tells the story better and so I’d like to ask you for your opinions and advice.
I think any county with a sizable population becomes a shell containing different countries. What do I mean? Back in the states we have New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta which draw people from all over the world who, in finding equilibrium, create a culture different from those smaller cities, towns, parishes which house what we can call “Americana”. Said differently, Paris is not France and neither is Tokyo, Japan.
I woke up to a dark overcast on Saturday which got heavier and denser until, by 9:00 a.m., the rains fell in earnest. The festival was to start from 11:00. Here and there were costumed performers with face paint warming up — pepping themselves up — for their dance in the festival.
Remember those options from my last post? Well, when I walk down the street I stick out and the assumption is I can’t understand anything. I do like a pretty face, or funky costume, and I am not shy to talk to strangers. When I want to know something I go up and ask — we take that test drive together, which opens up the potential for the same series of questions I really don’t want to answer again and again and again and again, so generally I keep control of the conversation.
Talking with these people under the covered walkways in Okayama, everyone I met was from Okayama, highly unusual for one living in Kanto and coming from Los Angeles. This was not a small town, but people gathered from the same place have a social bond that’s difficult to enter from the outside which explains the word we all use –“foreign-er” — and it’s Japanese equivalent 外人 (literally ‘outside person’).
Becoming part of a group is hard, this is not unique to Japan.
The idea underlying something foreign is that it doesn’t belong, is not indigenous, is, well, ‘outside’ the norm. I grew up a composite of foreign things, so I’m used to it, but if it’s your first time the cold can be bracing. It is difficult to make acquaintances here. For me, I’ve taken my exclusion as an opportunity to become comfortable being alone. Walking by myself I see things people miss. And I clearly understand what I like, know what I want to do in contrast to what I end up doing with my friends, co-workers, partner.
Traveling alone, especially in Japan, is unusual, but with a camera in hand and tripod over left shoulder I am now a photographer in the eyes of these groups I glide by, and occasionally, delve into.
And they are, at least for this day, something other than the lives they left behind this morning.
Japan has different classes of accommodation. There are elite hotels for the super rich (and weddings), 1-5 star hotels for traveling, business hotels, capsule hotels. For futons and home cooked meals there are Japanese inns and pensions. And if your traveling on a budget there are hostels, manga or Internet cafes (you get a partitioned space), and all night onsen (which come with reclining arm chairs for you to sleep in till morning) — and there are even more options, which is all to say that I knew I’d find someplace even though I was traveling peak season and making reservations daily.
In my head I thought I’d mostly stay at business hotels because they offer breakfast, are mostly new, are everywhere, and are inexpensive (about 50USD per night with breakfast). So my first night was at the APA Hotel.
Imagine you’re in a country that communicates in a language that is almost noxiously difficult and so not widely spoken. You’re short. A six foot four white guy walks in with a back pack and swagger do you:
A) Panic, then debate with your co-worker who speaks better English.
B) Greet in your best English. Haro.
C) Greet in casual Japanese. オスっ！
D: Greet in formal Japanese (like you’re supposed to). いらっしゃいませ。
E: Ignore and hope the problem goes away.
Sometimes sadly, those are my options.
So I arrive at my hotel and the front desk staff opts for D and are then surprised, pleased, and curious just how far my Japanese ability extends, which leads to an amusing phenomenon where whomever I’m speaking to might do one of two things:
Speaker faster than normal (hopefully because their nervous) and stop to add whatever English they remember. For example, 岡山の観光地といえば、まず初めにあがるのが、岡山城、後楽園、あの PARUKU ando CASSURU. もちろんここだけじゃあないけど。。。。If I’m feeling playful I might put on an earnest face and define Park and Castle (in Japanese) to make sure we’re on the same page.
That other thing some people do is answer me in English when I speaking to them in Japanese — do not do this to me unless you are devastatingly handsome, single, and able to flirt because I will call you out on it in public and crush whatever ego you have under foot — really grind it with all my weight — before I tell you to leave my presence and provide me with someone who is competent. (It’s how I get free stuff.) 😉
So this hotel’s staff was professional and curious and still test-driving my Japanese when told me that I was in luck because tomorrow was The Momotaro Matsuri, which they get to explain. Well, what do you know. I have no set itinerary, no reservations to bind me, and I can buy my next shinkansen ticket whenever I like. (raise a glass) Cheers to being unfettered.
So why am I showing you the doors to Okayama Castle after that story? Well, aside from the cliche about travel opening up doors these doors used to be permanently closed to all but a few of high birth and now anyone can pass through — including you, which is true for so many things in our lives. On either side of these doors is something built, a space planned, something beautiful and new (to me). The same is true for whatever passage is just before you. Alternatively, you could just wait in that space between.
Friday morning I woke up, did some house cleaning (before I passed my key on), and finished up the last of my summer work. It was three before I started looking for a hotel — and they were all over priced in Kyoto. I scanned the route in my mind. Okayama. I could stay the night there then catch the ferry over to Naoshima. It was five by the time I left with Hiro’s backpack and two pairs of each: shorts, t-shirt, over shirt, socks, Calvins. I packed one outfit for sleeping and the essential grooming gear (toothbrush, razor, gel, Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair). All the rest was camera equipment — and it was heavy. Over my other should I carried my tripod.
The Shinkansen from Shin Yokohama is about three hours. They sell special bentos onboard called “Eki Ben“, each one packed with foodstuffs from all the major areas a given Shinkansen passes through: Quality, not quantity.
Onboard I found my hotel through my iPad 3, used Wikipedia on the Mini Retina, and Facebooked on the iPhone — traveling alone with the world in hand.
I got to Okayama sometime after nine. The drizzle started the moment I left the station — and it did not stop until I came back home four weeks later. Still, my holiday was a blast. One of the many perks I get by living in Japan as a teacher is two – three months holiday. Don’t misunderstand. I work hard. I work seven days a week, plus I have to do extra things in my free time such as grade 5-page essays and create lesson plans, which is all to say I earn my vacation. The twist is that I use it to learn. This year, my aim was to teach myself how to take better pictures.
This post begins a photo series I will tag “vacation” and “travel” along with whatever city I happen to be in. My pics aren’t perfect. I’m posting them not only to share to but learn through your criticisms and comments. I also hope they’ll give you a sense that Japan is someplace you’d like to come visit. It really is unlike anyplace else you can go on our small, blue dot.
I’m starting with five different pictures which look the same. They were taken near the same spot around the same time in the morning (about seven a.m.) but with a little math I endeavored to put them on the same plane. They are of Okayama’s main attraction: The Okayama Castle. I’ve been to Okayama several times and so this time I didn’t wait to go inside. Rather, things happened and I changed my plans yet again to see something new which I’ll write about next. In the meantime you can play “Spot The Difference” and/or tell me which version you like best. Enjoy your weekends!
Elementary schools were given colorful streamers for children to write down their good wishes for the world. Phrases like, “I want everyone in the world to try hard with a smile”, “May good feelings and smiles all over the world increase”, “All the children of the world come together and make a peaceful world”. These were hung down different streets (from those on my previous post). Being of lighter paper they fluttered more in the breeze providing a sound like leaves and the reflected light of dozens of rainbows with the children who made them near, playing in the streets. And there, alone, perhaps resting, was a very dour older lady in monochrome.
From the seventies Japan amassed much of it’s garbage into a landfill used to reclaim land from the sea. By the late 80’s the site was full and work began to turn this landfill into a new part of the metropolis — Odaiba. Before it was heaped full of excess and waste Odaiba used to be series of small rocky crags that housed the cannons which keep the West out of Japan. Of those original islets only two or three remain are filled in with the waste as people threw out the old and bought the new during the long bubble period. Now Odaiba is home to Japan’s technological growth including the Miraikan, dormitories for international exchanges, vast shopping areas, luxury high rises and green acreage. The bridge which connects Tokyo to Odaiba is the Rainbow bridge (pictured here). Odaiba also houses Fuji TV, Japan’s largest TV network (the oddly shaped building below), which should be said helps shape the image of Japan for Japanese people.
(Another post which should have been uploaded while I was on holiday.)
I’m doing my morning cruise around the blogosphere and while reading this new blog (with great tips and discussion) I’m redirected to another site with a click. Because I live in Tokyo the approach of how to represent it especially appeals. It’s inspiration and I wanted to share.
When I was a boy I often went to Knott’s Berry Farm. There was a ride that took you though neon colored scenes, florescent nightscapes, and day glow characters. Those bright hues on black have always appealed to me. Vibrancy, I’m attracted to the energy and otherworldliness made from these kinds of colors.
Every town has someone like this. In a city of 42 million we have a few. What do you notice first? The thrilling fashion sense? The daring glasses? The perky breasts? It wasn’t until I came home and looked at the images that I noticed the decals. What I quickly dismissed as crazy — and tried really hard not to stare at — is actually a protest calling for the Abe government to not expand the military. How could I have missed such a clear message?