Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup (Ashitibichi)

Here's a soup that may not be for everyone. Ashitibichi (AHSH-teh-BEE-chee), or Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup, definitely warms the bones as the weather gets cooler. Having said that, I'm reminded that ashitibichi is also one of the most popular offerings at Honolulu's annual Okinawan Heritage Festival, and it's not exactly cool on Oahu, even in September when the Festival is usually held. I guess this is for the hard-core pork lovers! *Guilty!*

In ashitibichi, whole or sliced pig's feet, or trotters, are simmered with ginger to produce an incredibly savory and gelationous broth. Large cut vegetables are added to create a final dish that is more a stew than soup from a Western point of view. Either way, you will either love it or you won't even try it, depending on where you stand on the "odd meat-parts" divide of carnivorous dining. If you happen to fall on the other side of the divide, that's okay — more for the rest of us! *smile*

This is a dish that my mother did not make at home when we were growing up. I'm not sure why, because she enjoyed eating it whenever she came across it, I just don't remember seeing her make it. Ashitibichi is considerably more time-consuming to make than oden-style
Kombu, so that may be one reason. For this recipe I had to consult my trusty, well-worn copy of "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" produced by the Okinawan women's group of Hawaii called Hui O Laulima. (Here is another version prepared by Pomai at Tasty Island — he may not be Okinawan, but he's a fan, too!)

As with many Okinawan specialties, ashitibichi features kombu, or kelp, as well as pork. The type of kombu needed for this dish is the long dried strips which may be labelled "nishime kombu," "hayani kombu" or "ma kombu" — any one of these will work with this preparation. Preparing the kombu before it is added to the soup takes a bit of prep work and is not intuitive to anyone not accustomed to using kombu, so here's a quick guideline.


First, soak the dried kombu in cold water, using a container large enough that you don't have to bend the dried strips — bending the strips can cause them to snap and cut your kombu before you can knot it. Soak for 30-40 minutes, or until the strips become pliable. Don't soak too long (2 or more hours) or the kombu will start to become mushy and unworkable.

Reserve 2 cups of the soaking water. (You can use excess kombu water as the foundation for a vegetarian stock or to cook dried beans — the kombu water is said to make the beans easier to digest, I haven't tried this yet but will. I also water planted vegetables and shrubs with this mineral-rich water, if I don't have an immediate use for it in the kitchen.)

Knot each strip of kombu 4-5 times, depending on the length of the vegetable. If you leave about 5 inches, or one fist-length (see photo above), between the knots, you will leave just enough room to cut between them and leave an adequate "tail" on either side of the knot. The kombu will continue to expand as it cooks and if you cut too close to the knot, it will unravel as the vegetable cooks and become an unattractive blob of seaweed. Beware the Blob — leave a tail on both sides of the knot!

(Mrs. Yukihide Kohatsu's and Mrs. Fumiko Miyasato's recipes in "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" were the starting points for this version, although the method is my own. Photo here is from the 2007 Okinawan Heritage Festival in Kapiolani Park, Oahu)

Begin at least one day before you plan to serve, since broth is cooled overnight.

For the Broth
3.5-4 lbs/1.6-1.8kg pig's feet, whole or sliced lengthwise
2 large fingers of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (leave skin on)
Enough water to cover meat by 1-2 inches

Place meat and ginger in large (6 qt/L, or larger) crockpot. Set on HIGH setting for 2 hours. Skim top of broth to remove impurities as they rise to surface.

After 2 hours, set to LOW and allow to simmer for 5 hours for sliced feet, 6-7 hours for whole trotters. Meat should be tender and move around the joints easily.

Remove meat to separate container for cooling and storage. Discard ginger, and strain broth. Cool completely and store overnight separately from meat.

To Finish Soup:
2-3 strips of dried kombu strips, soaked and knotted (see Preparing Kombu, above)
2 cups reserved kombu soaking water above
2-3 TBL
awamori or sake
1 medium
daikon, peeled and cut crosswise into 2-inch thick slices
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch thick slices
8-10 dried
shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated
1 packet
dashinomoto, dried powdered fish stock
1-2 TBL sea salt
2 TBL soy sauce

If desired, remove fat layer from broth. Place broth in large soup pot or Dutch oven, and bring to hard boil over high heat. Add reserved kombu water and return to boil.

Add kombu knots, awamori or sake, and daikon, and bring to boil. Once broth is bubbling, lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add cooked meat, carrots, rehydrated shiitake, dashi packet, salt and soy sauce. Continue simmering for another 30-45 minutes.

Test kombu knots: if a pointed chopstick easily pierces the center of the knots, the soup is ready. If kombu is not ready, remove carrots and daikon if you don't want these vegetables to get too mushy, and continue simmering additional 20-30 minutes. Different brands and grades of kombu will cook slower or faster, so cooking times will vary, and are dictated on when the kombu reaches the desired consistency. Consistency of the cooked kombu is also a matter of personal preference — texture can range from slightly firm (
al dente) to meltingly tender. I prefer the latter, but that's just me.

Serve in individual bowls, with a separate bowl of rice, pickles, and a dipping dish of grated ginger or hot mustard. Maa-san!

Happy Birthday, Mom...

More Okinawan dishes on this site:
Kombu, Rafute, Abura Miso, Yakisoba, Okayu with Yomogi

More dishes with Kelp and other Sea Vegetables:
Kombu, Hijiki no Nimono, Namasu, Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis, Curry-Glazed Cod with Wasabi-Sea Salad Soba, and Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo


Okinawa Yakisoba

Who doesn’t like fried noodles, right?! We love them all: pancit, bami goreng, chow mein — you fry it, we’ll probably eat it. But this is my hands-down favorite — Yakisoba made with Okinawa soba noodles. You’re thinking, “Those don’t look like buckwheat noodles — soba noodles are made of buckwheat.” True, in most cases “soba” refers to noodles made with at least 30% buckwheat, but Okinawan noodle manufacturers received special dispensation from the Japan soba-growers’ association to continue to use the term “Okinawa soba” (although these noodles have 0% buckwheat) because the term was so closely tied to the island group’s history and culture.

Okinawa soba is slightly yellow in color and flattened in the middle, betraying its ancestry from the Chinese egg noodle. It is also thicker and has a chewy bite that distinguishes it from the more common ramen noodles which are used to make yakisoba in other parts of Japan. Until we lived in Hawaii, I used to make yakisoba using Chinese egg noodles, ramen noodles, or even leftover spaghetti noodles. But having had access to locally made Okinawa-style soba for 3 years on Oahu I knew it was going to be painful to be without it and have to make do with other noodles again. Happily, I don’t have to yet.

In our 9 months here, we’ve found 2 Japanese grocers in the area and they both carry the same Okinawan soba made by Sun Noodles in Honolulu that we used to buy on Oahu! *and the crowd shouts with joy!* Of course, here the noodles are in the frozen section of the market instead of the chilled section as they were in Hawaii — but c’mon they got here and that’s the important thing. A slight drop in quality is expected, as the freezing and thawing leave the noodles a bit softer after cooking so they don’t have quite the chewiness of the fresh — but again I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. You can find Sun Noodles brand Okinawa Soba, as well as many other Japanese fresh, frozen and dry goods at: Maruichi, Second Floor, Talbott Center, 1049 Rockville Pike (near the point where Rt. 355 merges with Veirs Mill Road), Rockville, MD; and Daruma, 6931-E Arlington Rd., Bethesda, MD. These are both small retailers specializing in Japanese products that the larger pan-Asian markets in the area don’t usually carry. Now if I can only convince one of them to carry Hawaiian-style Portuguese sausage, too, we’ll be REALLY happy.

Of course, you could also prepare Okinawa soba as a soup, the package includes a dehydrated soup base. In truth, we make the hot noodle soup more often than the yakisoba. But sometimes you just have to get that fried noodle fix, and this is how we do it...

Serves 2 as an entree, more if part of a multi-course meal
(If you can’t find Okinawa soba, the best substitute are Chinese egg noodles which are much easier to find fresh or chilled around the country)

1 TBL oil
4 oz/ 113g pork shoulder or thinly sliced pork belly (latter available at Korean grocers)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 medium cabbage, cut into 2” square pieces
1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced or julienned
* (optional) 1 piece of flat kamaboko, thinly sliced into strips
1/2 tsp sea salt
3-4 TBL yakisoba sauce or tonkatsu sauce (or in a pinch, Worcestershire sauce)
* (optional) 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated and sliced thinly
(or Braised Shiitake Mushrooms)
1 TBL oil
14-16oz/ 400-450g Okinawa soba noodles (the Sun Noodles package is 14.7oz.), thawed if frozen
1/4 cup/ 60ml water
beni-shoga (red pickled ginger), for garnish
ao nori (powdered seaweed) or fumi furikake (combination of ao nori and sesame seeds), for garnish

Slice pork shoulder or belly into small strips.

Heat wok over high heat and add oil, onions and pork. Stir fry together until onions just start to become translucent, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrots and salt (and kamaboko, if using). Stir to combine and drizzle with 1 TBL. yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and mix well. Add mushrooms, if using, and fry together for 3 minutes.

Move all contents of wok up the sides of the wok, leaving a large space in the center. Add oil and soba noodles directly to center of wok, and stir to coat noodles with oil. Push vegetables and meats over the top of noodles, pour water over all, and cover wok for 2-3 minutes or until it stops steaming.

Add 2 TBL yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and using 2 wooden spoons or large chopsticks, combine noodles and vegetable mixture so that everything is evenly distributed and sauce has a chance to cook through. Taste and add salt or last TBL. of sauce as needed.

Garnish with pickled ginger and nori, as desired.

Pomai at Tasty Island has a completely different way to make Yakisoba with these same noodles — he uses the soup base that come in the package to season the fried noodles, check out his step by step pictorial on his site.

Want more tastes from Okinawa? Try
Rafute (Long-cooked Seasoned Pork Belly)
Abura Miso (Sake-Seasoned Miso Paste with Rafute)
Kombu (Kelp & Pork Soup/Stew)


Abura Miso: Miso Paste with Seasoned Pork

This is a long-overdue post for a recipe request I received by email in December. (Sorry it took so long, Barb!)

And what is this strange-looking paste that someone would actually request a recipe for it? It’s an Okinawan specialty known as Abura miso (AH-boo-rah, which means “fatty”). Why “fatty” — because, Silly Rabbit, it has pork belly. Or to be more precise, it has Rafute, which is the lovely and decadent seasoned pork belly which was featured here last summer (photo below).

So if you can possibly spare a couple of slices of rafute, you can preserve it in miso and create a wonderful condiment in doing so. Miso paste is cooked long and slow over gentle heat with generous doses of sake, grated ginger and ginger juice, and just a touch of sugar. The goal is to concentrate the sake and have it absorbed into the miso paste. In the last 20 minutes, the prepared rafute is added with yet more sake, and cooked together until the sake is again absorbed into the paste. Properly stored, abura miso has kept in our fridge for months (but it usually is eaten lo-o-ong before then).

For grating the ginger for this dish, I recommend using a Japanese ceramic grater, Oroshi, like the one in the photo. Yes, it IS a single-use gadget, but this is one of those tools that just does the job better than anything else and so I do find room for it in the kitchen. In this case, it pulverizes the ginger so it naturally forms a wet paste rather than shreds, which can be unpleasant if left in this condiment. For making ginger juice, too, this oroshi can’t be beat — you can see in the photo that the liquid pools in the “moat” around the teeth of the grater, and that there are marked grooves in the teeth to carry the juice to the “moat” and a spout on one end to pour off the juice.

Whether eaten alone with hot rice, or mixed with a raw egg over REALLY hot rice (the egg will soft-set from the heat of the rice), used to fill savory pancakes, or made into musubi (rice balls), Abura Miso is a genuine Okinawan treat.

For Barb M. in San Antonio, TX.

Makes 3 cups

2 cups (360g) awase miso (blended light and medium misos)
1 and1/2 cups (355ml) sake, plus optional 1/4 cup
2 TBL. aji-mirin (seasoned cooking sake)
1-2 tsp raw sugar (if using granulated white sugar, use less)
2-3 tsp grated ginger and all accumulated juices
2 slices prepared rafute

Combine miso paste, sake, mirin, sugar and ginger in a medium saucepan, and place over medium high heat. Mixture will be very loose, and will drop very easily from a spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to bubble, about 6-8 minutes, then immediately turn heat down to low.

Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture starts to darken in color, and to thicken, about 40-50 minutes depending on how wide the saucepan is. The goal is to concentrate the sake flavor and incorporate it into the miso paste. The longer the process takes, the more intense the sake flavor will be without burning the miso. This process will feel familiar to anyone who has made a brown roux for gumbo or etouffe — stir, stir, watch carefully, stir, fiddle with the heat to get it just right, stir again.

Meanwhile, prepare the rafute.

Remove the rafute from wherever you hid it to hide it from greedy family members, and dice it into 1/4-inch cubes (this is easier to do if the rafute is cold). Bring to room temperature by heating in microwave for 20 seconds at highest temperature. Don’t microwave too long or the skin of the rafute will pop and resemble fried pork rinds — you will lose the silken texture that is so important to abura miso.

When the miso has thickened to the point where it now drops rather reluctantly from a spoon, add the diced rafute, and optional additional 1/4 cup sake, stir well to incorporate new ingredients. Continue the stirring vigil for another 20-30 minutes to heat rafute thoroughly and to remove the raw taste of newly added sake.

Taste. It should have a prominent sake flavor, mellowed by cooking and ginger, and very lightly sweetened. I usually don’t add any salt because the miso paste contains a lot of salt, but depending on the brand and type of miso used, you may wish to add salt too. It will look very similar to canned pumpkin in color. But compared to the plain miso, you will notice the abura miso has a sheen — some might even say, a glow.

We most often use abura miso to season musubi, seen here (it’s hidden in the center, trust me).


Rafute: Melts in your mouth, not on your hashi

There are few things that bring home Okinawan cooking to me more than Rafute, a meltingly tender and succulent braised pork belly that my dad calls “Okinawan bacon” (he’s Filipino, mom’s from Okinawa). He calls it that because 40-odd years ago his mother-in-law — unsure what to feed the new “foreign” son-in-law living in her tiny house in Shuri — used to make it for him for breakfast. With eggs and rice, of course.

Now, the uninitiated may look at pork belly and think, “I can’t eat that, it’s nothing but fat!” Aahh, but looks can be deceiving. In the case of rafute, the pork belly is first simmered for a long while in a seasoned bath of ginger, awamori or other alcohol, and water. The bath serves a dual purpose. First, to par-cook and remove the strong flavors of raw pork, thanks to the ginger and alcohol. Second, to remove a lot of the fat, which melts into the liquid and out of the pork. The pork can then be sliced and simmered again in a savory braising liquid that infuses flavor into the meat, and in the end glazes it and brings it to quivering tenderness. You think I exaggerate, but that’s only because you haven’t tried this yet.

Once fullly cooked and seasoned, rafute is a handy thing to have in the fridge to top those wonderful Okinawan soba noodles (photo bottom) you can find in Hawaii (or Okinawa, lucky you!), for yakisoba, as a side dish with tofu champuru — or yes, you can eat them for breakfast! (Uwajimaya in WA/OR carries Hawaii-made Okinawan style soba the last time we were in that area.) I also use rafute when making
Abura Miso, but that’s a story for another day...

Rafute freezes well, too, if you can vacuum seal it somehow. Then you can whip up an Okinawan-style soba/ramen any time! After the pork belly is removed from the first simmering broth, chilling the broth will make it easier to discard the layer of lard that forms on the surface. (If you are more enterprising than I, you can put this pure pork lard aside for other cooking purposes, too.)

From “Okinawan Cookery and Culture” (1984), a wondertful spiral-bound collection of recipes and cultural anecdotes from members of Hawaii’s large Okinawan community, there are notes to several recipes that it’s the large proportion of alcohol that gives rafute its distinctive melting quality. I never had awamori, an Okinawan distilled spirit made from Thai-style long grain rice, to play with until we came to Oahu. Growing up, my mother used sake. Until now, I used whiskey or bourbon. But Don Quijote on Oahu carries small bottles of awamori that are cheap enough ($5 for 375ml) that we can cook with it quite liberally for now.

hashi are chopsticks.

To Par-boil:
3 lb. not too lean pork belly
2-inch length of ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup (120ml) awamori or whiskey or sake

Gently bruise sliced ginger with the heel of your knife. Place pork belly and ginger in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add awamori or other alcohol, then cover meat with water by at least 1 inch. Over medium heat, bring just to a boil, then cover and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. (Don’t let the pot stay at a hard boil or the pork will “seize” and toughen the lean parts of the meat.) Simmer for 1 hour, checking occasionally to make sure water hasn’t boiled and left meat dry, and topping off with hot water to keep meat covered.

Remove pork from liquid. Chill broth and remove layer of lard on surface. When just cool enough to handle, slice pork 2-1/2 inches across and about 1/2 inch thick.

Initial Braising Liquid:
1 cup (240ml) broth from Par-cooking stage, or plain water
1 cup (240ml) awamori or sake
3/4 cup (160g) raw sugar
1 slice of ginger (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and add sliced pork. When heat returns to bubbling, reduce to barely a simmer, cover and cook for about 25 minutes.

Turn slices over, cover again and simmer another 20 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup shoyu and stir through to combine evenly with rest of braising liquid. Cook 15 minutes at the lowest simmer with no cover to allow the liquid to start evaporating. Turn slices over and continue cooking without a cover for another 15 minutes or so. Check texture, you should be able to cut through the meat, “fat,” and skin with a spoon. It should be akin to room temperature butter. If everything except the meat part is soft, it probably means the meat remained at a boil too long in the par-cooking stage and toughened — just continue on to the next step. If even the “fat” and skin give resistance, add 1/4 cup mirin-water mix, cover again and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, then check again.

Now the braising liquid is turning into a sticky glaze. Continue cooking without a cover for another 20-30 minutes, turning meat over every 5-7 minutes, depending on how quickly the glaze is forming. Before the glaze dries off completely, turn heat off, cover pan and let meat cool in glaze. Will keep in fridge for at least a week, months in the freezer if you can protect it from freezer burn.

To re-heat rafute, heat in an oiled skillet over medium heat until hot. Microwave re-heating can be tricky, and cause “burned” spots where the skin or areas near the skin turn into chicharrone (aka crackling) — a lesson learned the hard way. After spending such a long time to make these beauties, I prefer the pan for re-heating.

Our favorite way to use rafute — with Okinawan soba noodles and broth, and garnished with ginger, pre-cooked
watercress, gai choy or choi sum, and way too many braised shiitake.

Ways to use Rafute: Abura Miso (Seasoned Miso Paste)


Celebrating culture, honoring our ancestors

Banner for 2007 Okinawa Festival
Everyone loves a good fest. Food, music, drink, maybe dancing — what’s not to love? Earlier this month the Hawaii United Okinawa Association held its 25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival at the beautiful Kapiolani Park, between Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. We were there only on Saturday evening for the bon odori, or obon dance.

Obon is a Buddhist festival of gratitude towards and celebration of one’s ancestors. Traditional group dances of colorfully dressed professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists alike circle a tower, called a yagura, ringing with drummers, musicians and singers. I love watching the dancers’ faces. Some seem contempletive and serene, whether they are thinking of their loved ones now gone or simply intent on the music. Others are clearly enjoying the camaraderie of the present, laughing and teasing someone nearby. Still other brave souls venture into the fray not knowing the dance steps and openly copying the movements of a more confident dancer in their view. All are welcome and encouraged, which is what makes bon odori so much fun.

Singers on stage, Okinawa fest 2007
Singers lead the dancers at this year's festival

Traditional yagura, 2006 festival
A more traditional yagura at the 2006 Okinawa Festival

Learning bon odori young!
This little guy knows that if you don't know the steps, you just follow someone who does!

Before the dancing begins at dusk, the festival is alive with markets, exhibits, games, and food booths. There’s a craft market, a nursery, an open farmers’ style market, and a food market of Okinawan favorites: black sugar cookies, bittermelon teas and beverages, Okinawan style noodles and kombu.

Refreshments for every taste
So many food and drink booths from which to choose

Hot andagi!
These dedicated andagi makers go non-stop to fill the demand for the delicious doughnuts

Pig;s feet soup The Andaddog
Ashibitchi and Andadog --- does it get any better?

To build one’s stamina before putting on the dance togs, fresh-cooked Okinawan specialties are also available: aschibitchi (pigs’ feet soup), chanpuru ( tofu scramble), yakisoba (fried noodles), and andagi (fried doughnuts). Last but not least, there’s the piece de resistance -- the Andadog, Hawaii Okinawans’ answer to the corn dog.

E Komo Mai

I am a novice student of the Tao and a long-time student of food traditions of the world. Trained first and foremost in my parents' island kitchen, I learned early on that the soul of the family lies in its pots and pans.

My mother, Fumiko, was a reluctant cook, she learned to cook mostly from her husband, then her mother-in-law. But she learned recipes faithfully, and brought her love and attention to everything she made. She cooked to take care of people, and everyone among her family, friends, co-workers, and friends of her children found comfort and a listening ear around her table. Flore, my father, was the creative soul of the kitchen, introducing “exotic" dishes like Italian cacciatore and Spanish paella, to their Okinawan-Filipino household. He can still be found “riffing” on recipes with wild abandon (Emeril Lagasse is his role model) --- gaily substituting and making additions to recipes, albeit some where they should not go (sorry, but Worcestershire sauce has no place is chicken adobo. Ever). What these two cooks synthesized in their kitchen together for 44 years was a messy, happy and deep love for food and family. This they have passed on to their children and their families.

As an heir to this tradition, I’ve found my journey with the Tao keeps wending its way through the kitchen – cooking first to comfort and nourish self, then to gather and feed friends, now to nurture and heal family and friends, old and new. To cultivate the Tao in myself has been to understand that my kitchen is both my mirror and my canvas --- whether I’m feeling creative, adventurous, tired, obsessed, all these expressions find their way to my bowl and plate.

In the kitchen with Flore & Fumi

So how to combine a spiritual journey and a culinary quest? Tao in the kitchen? I think of it as the "Way of cooking." My goal is to have fun with food and stay open to new food cultures. In this forum let’s cultivate a connection to what we eat and how we cook it. Let's think of food not just as something to fill the belly, but to nourish the spirit, clear the body and heal the soul. Let’s make shopping for, preparing and enjoying meals simple and joyful exercises. Let’s learn about new foods, and think in different ways about foods we already love. This is what I propose to do and I welcome you to this shared journey!

I'd like to begin by sharing with you a dish that will always remind me of that first kitchen of my heart, my mom and dad's. This dish may be wholly foreign to you, but it is the epitome of comfort food for my family. Warm and soupy, nutritious and familiar, it is the "chicken soup" for the Okinawan soul. My mother just called it Kombu, which is the Japanese name for the dried sea kelp that is the basis for this dish. In Okinawa, kombu features much more prominently in the local diet than in mainland Japan, and this particular preparation is unique to that island's tastes. In the mainland, similar dishes called nishime or oden feature nearly identical ingredients, but the proportions of the ingredients are what make the distinction (for instance, oden has more kamaboko). And the Okinawan version is always cooked with lots of pork. Okinawans are notoriously dedicated pork eaters. I remember during childhood visits to Okinawa, having to squeeze myself into tiny doorways as massive 400-500lb. pigs were led down the narrow cobble streets of my grandmother’s village. Pork broth steaming from huge bowls of soba, laden with fish cake and pork ribs; succulent slices of double-cooked pork glazed with a hint of sweet soy….but I digress, more about these in future.

Sea kelp is a good source of calcium, iodine, magnesium, iron and folate, as well as glutamic acid -- a rich source of natural umami; and it is the foundation of the famed Okinawan Diet for good health and longevity. A quick google of "kombu" will yield some references to its use to make dashi (a flavoring broth essential to Japanese cooking), and a few recipes where it may play a small part. In this Okinawan dish, however, Kombu is clearly the star.

Chicken souup for the Okinawan soul
(clockwise: fried tofu, konnyaku, kombu, shiitake, carrot, kamaboko)

Prepare the pork and broth
1.5-2lb whole pork belly or shoulder
1 small hand ginger, washed well and sliced in ½ inch slices
3 TBL whisky, sake, or awamori (Okinawan sake)

1 packet
dashi no moto
2 tsp.
1 tsp. sugar, prefereably demerara or light brown

Broth preparation
Wash pork well and place in large (8qt or larger) pot with ginger. Cover meat with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and skim foam off top. Add liquor, then cover with lid and let simmer for 45 minutes. Remove meat and set aside. Discard ginger. Add dashi no moto, mirin and sugar to broth and keep at simmer.

2 strands of Hayani
kombu, soaked in 6 qts water for at least 20 minutes (save soaking water)
1 piece
1 small
daikon (white radish), peeled and cut in 3 in. pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut on diagonal
4-6 pieces fresh or canned whole bamboo tips, cut into 3-in pieces
8 pieces dried shiitake mushroom, soaked in 4 cups water until completely rehydrated -- about 1 hour
(save soaking water and strain) (fresh shiitake may be used, but dried is preferred for its intense flavor)
1 stick
chikuwa kamaboko (fishcake), sliced on diagonal (optional)
1 large firm block of tofu, wrapped in towel and drained in fridge at least 1 hr., then cut in 2-in. cubes
2-3 tsp. Kikkoman soy sauce

Kombu preparation
Depending on type of kombu, may need longer soak – it should be pliable but not disintegrating. Remove kombu and save water, if you like. If rehydrated kombu is more than 6” across, cut lengthwise before proceeding. Start tying knots in kombu strand, leaving about 4” between each knot. Now cut evenly between knots.

Konnyaku preparation
Rinse well. Slice cross-wise into ½” slices -- about 12 slices. Cut a lengthwise slit in the center of each slice, leaving ¾” uncut at top and bottom -- you should be able to put a finger through the hole. Now the fun part --- hold one slice in your left hand, and with your right, push the bottom of the slice through the slit and out. It will create a very attractive spiral pattern in the center. After you’re done admiring your handiwork, add to broth.

Add kombu, 1 cup saved kombu water, konnyaku, shiitake and shiitake water to broth. Simmer about 30 minutes. Add carrots, daikon, bamboo, kamaboko and tofu. Slice pork into 2” pieces and add to broth with soy sauce. Simmer another 20 minutes or until kombu is tender at the knotted middle (test the thickest part with fork -- it should slide easily through).

Serve with rice, and Japanese hot mustard or wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping. Pickled vegetables, called
tsukemono, are also lovely with this. Enjoy!