Sunday, August 10, 2014

Making Boso Peninsula's Futomaki Matsuri-Zushi

"The most beautiful expressions 
of the culinary art"
Futomaki matsuri-zushi

Beautiful treats that are the result of over 100 years of culinary refinement.

If you have heard of "futomaki matsuri-zushi", you are a real sushi connoisseur! The Chiba Kun Ambassadors recently was given a cooking class. Yes, being an ambassador for Chiba Kun is not limited to only introducing the tourist spots in Chiba prefecture, because we gotta attend cooking class once in a while as well hahaha! So, this time we were given the opportunity to learn how to make one of Japanese most well-known food - sushi.

This time, we would be making "futomaki matsuri-zushi" (太巻き祭り寿司), literally "thick-rolled festival sushi". Futomaki matsuri-zushi is common in the Chiba Prefecture of Japan and is considered as another form of traditional culture that is passed down through the ages. These unique and colorful sushi rolls are rolled with intricate patterns and commonly made for special occasions and festivals since old times. They transform your traditional California roll and turn it into the linkness of a panda, flower, or even a pop culture icon.

The sushi masters were there since early in the morning in preparing the ingredients. Here they are making tamago-yaki (Japanese omelet) (photo credit: Madoka Usui).

The three sushi chefs plus a visiting student from a local university, who would teach us the way to make futomaki-sushi.

Futomaki-zushi is a type of rolled sushi that is distinguished for its large size and careful balance of ingredients. Most people, especially the non-Japanese probably have the image of sushi as rice cubes topped with raw fish. However, they might be surprised by the care and artistry that goes into these rolls of futomaki. They are usually filled with different coloured vegetables and may not even contain fish at all. Chef design futomaki to be both delicious and pleasing to the eye, and they often choose ingredients for how well they balance with each other in taste and looks.

The word "futomaki" (太巻き) is Japanese for "fat roll", and this name could not be more appropriate. Futomaki rolls are usually 4 centimeters in diameter if not larger, and are made up of three main parts. The outside "casing" or "shell" of the roll is traditionally a thin sheet of nori seaweed, which is basically seaweed that has been pressed and dried into a thin but flexible rectangle. Soy paper or thin cooked egg can be used in rare instances. The inside is made up of both sushi rice and chosen fillings.

A recipe book written by Eiko Ryuzaki-sensei (龍﨑英子), in her efforts to aspire and promote the art and techniques of futomaki-making not only to the younger generations in Japan, but also to foreigners. For more information about the recipes, you can take a look from this link (Japanese only).

Minegishi sensei, showing us the packet of Susshi (すっし〜), which is used to make the rice pink in colour.

Sushi mat is made up of bamboo slats woven together into a flexible surface. There are two kinds of sushi mat prepared for us,
one the normal size and the other a slightly bigger one.

Sushi rice is a special variety of short-grained, sticky rice. When it is used in rolls, it is usually seasoned with a bit of mirin, a rice vinegar, and may also be salted in order to help it stick together and adhere to the other ingredients. These "other ingredients" are where the sushi chefs have the most flexibility. Vegetables are common choices, particularly cucumber, carrot, and mushroom; cooked seafood such as crab or eel may also be used. Some rolls feature raw fish, but not often.

This time, the Chiba Kun Ambassadors were so lucky to have the opportunity to be taught by a group of three members from Chiba Traditional Regional Cuisine Research Group (千葉伝統郷土料理研究会), who had experience giving classes of sushi-making in many countries abroad, to show us how to make futomaki. The Chiba Kun Ambassadors were divided into two groups and we were given two motifs to choose from - rose or peach flower. Since I had made the peach flower motif one a year ago, I went to rose this time. The basic rolling process can take some time to master, but is not particularly difficult.

Minegishi sensei started the demonstration of making rose-motif futomaki-zushi. Pink rice and sweetened red capsicums were used for the petals part.

Thin eggs complete the petal part, which thinly sliced cucumber were used for the stalk.

And here is the final result - rose petal futomaki-zushi.

Next up is making the peach flower futomaki-zushi.

Adding in the final portion of sushi rice to complete the masterpiece.

The first step usually involves putting the nori directly on the mat, and will then cover nearly the entire surface with prepared sushi rice. The other ingredients, cut into thin strips, are placed on top of the rice. Most of the time, these ingredients are stacked in the center and do not take up the entire surface area.

When everything is in place, the chef will create the roll by slowly folding the bamboo mat inwards. This movement causes the nori to fold over onto itself from one edge to the next. The end result is a thick log that should hold itself together. Chefs sometimes present the futomaki as a single whole like this, but more commonly will slice it into individual rounds. Each round contains a small taste of all of the ingredients that were stacked on top of the rice.

The rose group is ready to rock sushi and roll (photo credit: Madoka Usui).

This is one of the ingredients for the rose petal - sweetened red capsicums.

Minegishi sensei reminding us the correct method of using the bamboo mat (photo credit: Madoka Usui).

And we started to create the petal with pink rice, capsicums and tamago-yaki (photo credit: Madoka Usui).

Pickled celery is used as the stalk of the rose.

The rose futomaki-zushi, by yours truly.

Taking a photo with the sensei and the sushi I made.

And the rest of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors in the rose group (photo credit: Madoka Usui).

Sushi is well-known the world over as a popular part of Japanese cuisine; however, in some countries, including Malaysia, eating raw fish is not common practice. Therefore, in these locations, they prefer to have unique makizushi (巻き寿司) rolls made with local ingredients. One of the many types of makizushi is futomaki matsuri-zushi, a type of sushi that contains no raw fish.

These makizushi rolls look like splendid works of art. However, in actual fact, there are very few sushi masters who know how to make them, so futomaki matsuri-zushi is not very well known even in Japan. This is because these rolls are the brainchild not of sushi chefs, but of local farmers from the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture.

Exchanged half of my sushi with the other group, and here are some of the peach flower futomaki-zushi.

A splendid work of arts made by the amazing chefs.

A group photo with the sushi chef and the Chiba Kun Ambassadors. Yes, I was the only guy there lol! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama)
This is the traditional way for the locals to eat sushi. Farmers know better than anyone else the hard work involved in growing rice, and they wish for people to experience happiness when they eat their carefully grown produce. They take vegetables, eggs, as well as dried local ingredients that are easily preserved, and roll them up into a sushi roll. The beautiful patterns crafted within each roll show a spirit of welcome toward the recipient. For that reason, they are must-haves at weddings, festivals, celebrations, and other special days.

Locals have cherished futomaki matsuri-zushi for many years, a sushi that is only available in the Boso Peninsula, and where recipes have been handed down through many generations. Every year, design contests have given birth to new works of art. Incidentally, the Boso Peninsula refers to Chiba Prefecture, where Narita International Airport can be found. If you head out there, not only can you buy some futomaki matsuri-zushi yourself, but you will also be able to stop by workshops that let you roll your own. Why not go and visit the area and enjoy the rich variety of designs, and the classic, simple flavors on offer.

Chiba is waiting for you!