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Tokyo may be a megacity of more than 20 million people, but there are neighborhoods where the rhythm of daily life is more accessible, especially when it comes to eating. From old specialty shops to modern department store food courts, in these places the traditions and the communities they nurture are still identifiable. That’s especially the case in Kichijoji, the quintessential Tokyo neighborhood that’s the setting for our food walk and whose everyday food-focused rituals are the inspiration for this Backstreet Box.
To create this box, we teamed up with Kokoro Care Packages, which carefully selects premium-quality artisanal foods made by local farmers and producers throughout Japan. Together, we chose a series of iconic items which we hope will bring some of the magical flavors of Kichijoji and Tokyo into your kitchen.
To start, we chose one of the most elemental Japanese ingredients of all: awase dashi, a liquid base of konbu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito/skipjack tuna) which can be used to make both soups and sauces. This one comes from Osaka’s Nagaike Konbu, which produces its dashi using some of the rarest ingredients around. To help you flavor your dashi, we chose some yuzu kosho, a seasoning made from the peel of the yuzu fruit (a unique kind of citrus) and green chile from southern Japan’s Oita Prefecture mixed with sea salt from Okinawa. Aged for one year, this aromatic blend can be spread on grilled fish and meats (like the yakitori we try in Kichijoji) or on gyoza.
On our walk, we stop for fugu (blowfish) dipped in yuzu ponzu, which combines soy sauce with the juice of the citrus fruit and other ingredients to create an umami-rich condiment. While we wouldn’t dare send you blowfish, our box includes an artisanal yuzu ponzu made by a soy sauce producer who’s been in business since 1878. Since we can’t get enough of yuzu, it shows up again in another building block we chose for the box: miso (one of the highlights of our Kichijoji walk is a visit to a small shop that specializes in this classic item). This yuzu miso, made by a 66-year-old woman living in Tokushima Prefecture, combines the fermented rice and soybean paste’s traditional salty umami flavor with the sweet tartness of yuzu to create an utterly delicious flavor bomb that can be used as a glaze for meat or fish or as part of a salad dressing.
From the Okayama region, we chose another fermented product, hishio moromi, in this case a unique regional specialty made with barley mixed with eggplants and radishes. The flavorful paste is versatile enough to be used to flavor cooked vegetables or even spread on top of bread. Since fermentation is such an essential part of Japanese cuisine, we also included in our box some natto koji, a paste made from soybeans that have a rich flavor and high natural sweetness, lending to a nutty taste similar to chestnuts. Made by a small, family-run producer in Kanagawa Prefecture, this natto can be served on top of rice or be combined with other ingredients to create a dip or spread. Finally, in honor of the small, family-run senbei (rice cracker) shop we visit in Kichijoji, we chose for the box some matcha arare, bite-sized snacks made with glutinous rice (mochi) and matcha, which helps create a flavor that magically hovers between savory and sweet. These crackers are hand-made in Kyoto by a master who uses a century-old technique that involves carefully polishing the rice and then steaming and pounding it to get the right texture. It’s the kind of careful care and attention that goes into every one of the items in this box of edible treasures.