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博客何飛:Wasabi-Never or Ever

何飛 | 2014-12-16

Image description credit to: 何飛

I never enjoyed Wasabi that much. In fact, I try to avoid it as much as possible. The feeling it brings is just not that pleasant to my nose and eyes, particularly because both of these windows to my senses are sensitive, and therefore, more than often, my eyes welling up with tears over the happy Japanese meals. It’s an aggressive sensation. It’s the same actually when I drink a certain red wine or coke – I tear and sneeze –to the point that my close (Swedish) friends usually tease me with ‘coke only’ nights. But, the intriguing thing I realize about never is that, the more we say never, the more they become ever.

Just for an example: my journey to Nagano was never for Wasabi but I ended up yearning for it. The mysterious thing was, when we arrived at Azumino, the nearest spot to start our visit was the Wasabi farm in Hotaka–which happens to be the biggest in Japan. Everything in this farm has something to do with wasabi ranging from ice-cream, soba, wine to salad dressing source. The moment we entered into the farm, it’s so unreal I thought I was being in a scene of those Japanese water paintings I saw in art museum. Red and golden autumn leaves were everywhere and the crispy sound generated from the touch between the pure stream of water running from Nagano’s mountains and the cobbles through the wasabi land simply gave me a feeling of peacefulness . In the farm, there is a river leading to the Alps and the watermills which were built during the time when the movie “Dreams” was filmed by Akira Kurosawa in 1990 still remain there. To fully soak into the Zen spirit, taking a raft tour along the river sided with willows was definitely the choice for spiritual wellness.

Image description credit to: 何飛

The high point of the farm visit was the lunch that we had at the noodle restaurant. The wasabi source that came with the noodle was so refreshing, soft and tasty that it was absolutely not the wasabi that I recognized. It’s a warm welcoming taste, nothing pressing or a sensation that simply push you away. I didn’t tear over the meal –and as a matter of fact, I had fallen in love with it.
Later, I realized the wasabi that I took is called Misho-a kind of wasabi that takes 1 year to grow. There is another one called Mazuma which takes 2 years to grow and the texture is more sticky and rich. It’s also the kind of wasabi that’s commonly used for stars restaurants. Wasabi farmers don’t use fertilizer for growing wasabi. The nutrients come directly from Nagano mountains’ melt water and the water temperature has to be maintained at 12 degree celsius. In order to prevent the wasabi from overheating by the sun, usually these farmlands are laid out in a “tanada” way and the wasabi are also protected under layers of small cobble stones and rock field. In this way, nutrients can still go down reaching the wasabi while they’re shaded from the sunlight.

In order to enjoy wasabi to its fullest and optimize the taste in a practical way, it’s suggested taking more wasabi when we take the more fatty sashimi such as Toro and less with the non-fatty ones such as squid.

Image description credit to: 何飛

As for me, taking the fresh wasabi is like enjoying an art. It’s like savoring a kind of Japaneseness– images of the Japanese soil, the elegant flow of the melting water from the mountains, the devotion of the farmers and the harmonious integration of human activities and cycle of nature are all coming up on my mind forming a magical realism picture.

And, that’s just one of the stories in life about never. And, ever.