Kemame, an Exquisite of Aomori’s Secret｜Scenery Where Rich Japan is Created
Japan, the island country which is slender and long, extending north to south. Small, but beautiful land with full of rich nature and blessed with pure water here and there. Delicious things have been developed from beautiful sceneries. In this series, we will introduce delectables originated from landscapes in Japan, which cannot be found in big cities.
Endless Sweet Taste!
Green pods are covered by rich golden-brown hair. When touched, they are soft and smooth and feels like touching furs. Kemame is one of soybean (or edamame) said to be locally originated from Tsugaru district and local breed of Aomori. Nobody here calls edamame. More than that, people believe that “edamame is transformed version of kemame.”
Firstly, kemame is unique in its size. It is one size bigger from what we eat usually. And it is sweet and aromatic. It is also big and rich in taste; how could we resist. Anybody who tried kemame for the first time get wildly excited and cannot stop eating.
Kemame is the plant which grows even in a bad harvest year and supported family tables of Tsugaru farmers from long ago. Seeds have been inherited from mothers to daughters-to-marry for generations. Wives planted seeds on the ridge between rice fields and competed who could grow tasty beans, and that is how its taste improved.
But such kemame is not known nationally. Harvest starts from late September. In general, edamame is recognized as something to eat with beer in summer, people lose interest in eating in late September. Therefore, kemame is consumed mostly within Aomori Prefecture, and its name was less known outside of the prefecture.
“Kemame Grand Prix” to Decide Annual Champion
“Aomori Kemame Study Group” has been established to broaden its presence, and they run “Kemame Grand Prix” to compete tasty beans. I went to see its sixth contest on September 21, 2018. There were 19 producer teams participated at the contest. For the first round, 80 audiences tasted 16 different kinds and voted. Top six produces were qualified for the final. Top three producers from previous year joined to the final, and total nine kinds were voted again. This year, first thing happened in “Kemame Grand Prix.” Champion of last year, Mr. Shigeru Fukushi won consecutively.
I asked a question to Mr. Fukushi who raised his arm high in triumph when his name has been called. “Are you doing something special?” He replied, “Naaah, I ain’ doin’ nothin’ special. Far from bein’ non-chemical, I even haven’ given fertilizer. But kemame grows well taking nutrients from soil. If anythin’, my seeds are just goo.” It is something like pride of food culture which has been secretly passed from ancestor, which is rarely found in present Japan.
Early morning of the next day, I went to the farm of one of the kemame producers Mr. Shogo Osanai, aka “Kemame Prince” in Itayanagi and tasted just boiled kemame which I harvested. Freshness is essential aspect for beans. It is even said, “Boil water before you go to the field.” I couldn’t be happier. “Boy, it is damn good!” Mr. Osanai screamed as soon as he ate a pod. Afterward, everybody started to reach for boiled kemame. When I filled my mouth with piping hot kemame, I broke into a smile, tasting something like fresh-baked chestnut with sweet aroma together with full of green smell of beans. Everybody was laughing and eating beans madly. It occurred to me why the smiles of Kemame Prince Mr. Osanai and Kemame Princess Ms. Hisami Sakuraba are nice, is because probably they are eating kemame always.
1955年東京出身。㈱味の手帖 取締役編集顧問 タベアルキスト。日本国内、海外を、年間600食ほど食べ歩き、雑誌、テレビなどで食情報を発信。「味の手帖」「朝日新聞WEB」「料理王国」「食楽」他連載多数。三越日本橋街大学講師、日本鍋奉行協会顧問。最新刊は「出世酒場」集英社刊。
Aomori Kemame Study Group
Photographs by Mika Hirose Text by Mackey Makimoto