Sanuki's culinary culture is nurtured by its seasonal agriculture, reservoirs, and fisheries
Within the Shikoku region, mostly covered by mountains, the fertile Sanuki Plain covers about half of the Kagawa Prefecture's soil. Its warm climate and the uncommon occurrence of natural disasters within its boundaries have also made it suitable for rice and wheat cultivation, and so, agricultural culture developed in the area since the Yayoi period in ancient times.
Data was acquired with the help of Kitagawa International Specialty School Cooking Technical College and Sanuki Mengyo.
The ancestors of Kagawa, who survived through wisdom and ingenuity in their lives.
Due to the low rainfall and the short distance from the river to the sea, water shortages were once a serious problem in the area. How did the ancestors of Kagawa develop agriculture and culinary culture with their limited water resources? We spoke to Kazuyo Tsugita, a professor of Food and Nutrition within the Department of Life and Culture at Kagawa Junior College, Yukiko Ikeuchi, chairman of the Kagawa Prefecture Nutrition Teacher and School Nutrition Staff Research Group, and Toshiko Tsukuda, Vice President of the Kagawa Prefecture Life Study Group Liaison Council.
In the upper reaches of the Marugame Plain, you can find the huge "Manno Ike" reservoir, with a perimeter of about 20 km. The reservoir was built in the 8th century for irrigation purposes. Many reservoirs were built in the prefecture for the same reason, and it is said that agriculture was carried out through the careful use of these water supplies. As each feudal domain began to develop new rice fields during the Edo period, more and more reservoirs were built in the Sanuki Plain. And so, the reservoirs nurtured not just the rice, but the livelihood of the farmers as well. The crucian carp, loach, common carp, eel, shrimp, and "Moroko" gudgeon from the reservoir were invaluable food sources, becoming regular accompaniments to rice.
This prefecture is the smallest, by land area, in all of Japan. Of course, this meant that agricultural land was limited, but under these unfavorable conditions, the people's wisdom and ingenuity for living rose and brought with them the development of agriculture in Kagawa. For example, in the old days, fava beans were often planted on the ridges of paddy fields in order to make effective use of the farmland. "Shoyu Mame" is a delicacy that combines these sweet and soft fava beans with the different local sake; this dish is made by roasting dried fava beans and soaking them in a seasoning liquid made with boiled soy sauce or sugar overnight. On special occasions, such as farmers' events or village festivals, it was served together with sake, and since it can be preserved, it was also a useful side dish to be eaten on ordinary days.
In addition, every family would build vegetable gardens by dividing the fields near their homes, producing crops all year round. One of those typical crops was the "Manba," a type of "Takana" mustard greens. Since the leaves come out one after another, it is known as "Manba" (thousand leaves) in the Tosan region and "Hyakka" (hundred petals) in the Seisan region. A dish, which is prepared by boiling and shredding these greens, frying them in oil with ingredients such as tofu and "Aburaage" (deep fried tofu), and adding to the result seasonings such as "Iriko Dashi" (soup stock) and soy sauce, is known as "Manba no Kenchan" in the Tosan region, and "Hyakka no Sekka" (Hundred petals snow flower) in the Seisan region, where tofu is often likened to snow.
The regional "Udon" noodle dishes from the prefecture were born by combining the ingredients the locals had at hand.
The Seto Inland Sea is a treasure trove of marine products often referred to as a "natural fish farm." Although small, one can catch fish with firm flesh that has been hardened by the fast currents flowing within these waters. There are many kinds of edible marine species in the area, such as anchovies in Ibukijima, the local fish of the grunt family known as "Setodai," sea breams, squids, and shrimps.
There is farming on the plain and fishing in the coastal areas. Udon makes the most of these regional resources. Winters are mild and suitable for barley cultivation, salt is produced on the shallow coasts, anchovies are caught in the Seto Inland Sea, and have been used in place of dried sardines to make Dashi, fragrant leeks are cultivated throughout the prefecture, and Shodoshima is known for its thriving soy sauce production. All the necessary ingredients for Udon can be found nearby. It is a regional food of the prefecture born from the climate and natural features of Kagawa.
Now, we will proceed to introduce the culinary culture of the prefecture, divided into four regions: Tosan, Chusan, Seisan, and the insular region.
< Tosan Region >
Traditional sweets and sushi, which have been handed down since ancient times
In the Tosan region, which used to be part of the Takamatsu Domain as the former Sanuki Province, sugarcane production has been carried out since the Edo period under the order of Yoritaka Matsudaira, fifth lord of the Takamatsu Domain. The warm climate and moderate rains are suitable for cultivation, which allowed the production of high quality "Sanbon" sugar in the locality. Nowadays, it is only cultivated in a limited area around Hiketa in Higashi-Kagawa City, but the local Sanbon, which melts in the mouth, is still very popular as a souvenir.
Image source: Agricultural Administration Division, Agricultural and Fisheries Department, Kagawa Prefecture.
The traditional sweets known as Uzumaki Mochi, from the area of Hiketa, which is located on the border with Naruto City in the Tokushima Prefecture, have also been passed down since ancient times. This sweet is said to represent the Naruto whirlpools by wrapping soft pink rice cakes with a strained bean paste filling, expressing the feelings of the fishermen from Hiketa who lost their fishing grounds in the fight with the Naruto whirlpools during the Edo period. Currently, it is used to brighten up the celebration of the Doll's Festival.
In addition, the Tosan area is surrounded by sea on three sides: east, north, and west; these coastal areas offer plentiful resources for fishing and aquaculture. Among them, Salt Lake (Adoike) in Hiketa, which was Japan's first successful seawater aquaculture facility in 1928, is famous for the aquaculture of "Hamachi" amberjack. The "Hiketa-Buri" branded fish, which is farmed there, is fatty and has an excellent texture.
Agriculture thrives among the flatlands that open up from the foot of Mt. Sanuki, and many of the local dishes of the region derive from the local crops. At the beginning and end of the harvest season, "Kan-Kan Zushi" has traditionally been prepared as a delicacy; a large rectangular wooden frame is filled with white rice, topped with vinegar soaked Japanese Spanish mackerel, and covered with a lid. The name comes from the wedge-shaped plug that is hammered into it with a wooden mallet producing a "Kan-Kan" sound. It is said that this wooden frame was once one of the articles offered as part of a dowry.
< Chusan Region >
Seasonal cuisine born from the rural reservoir culture
The Chusan region, over which the Sanuki Plain spreads, has scarce amounts of river water, and so, many reservoirs were used to secure water for agricultural use in the past. From autumn to winter, when the rice harvest is over, a "reservoir drying" is carried out, where an abundance of freshwater fish such as common carps and crucian carps can be harvested as the reservoir water is drained. Between June and July, when loaches can be caught in the river before planting rice, the season of the delicious "Dojo-Jiru" (loach soup) arrives. Loach, vegetables, and thick Udon noodles are stewed together in a large pot, and it is customary to eat them together in villages and gatherings. It is a stamina recovering food eaten to prevent summer heat fatigue.
Image source: Agricultural Production and Distribution Division, Agricultural and Fisheries Department, Kagawa Prefecture.
Wheat was grown in two-crop rotation with rice. On farms, Udon noodles and dumplings made by kneading wheat flour with water were special dishes served at the change of seasons and during celebrations. Around July 2nd, when the wheat harvest and rice planting were over, they would prepare “Hage Dango” with freshly made flour. It is said that the people who came from the foot of Mt. Sanuki to help with rice planting were treated with this, and would then rest their bodies for half a day. Sprinkle red bean paste on top and enjoy the aroma of wheat.
< Seisan Region >
Abundant blessings of the Mitoyo Plain and the Seto Inland Sea
Located at the western end of the prefecture, the Seisan region is surrounded by mountains on three sides, and within it, the Mitoyo Plain spreads from the foot of the mountain toward the sea. The Mitoyo Plain is blessed with warm and fertile soil, as well as few natural disasters, so agriculture is extremely prosperous in the area. Vegetables such as wheat, broccoli, and lettuce are grown as rotation crops with rice.
The northwestern area faces the Seto Inland Sea. Ibukijima Island, located in the Hiuchinada Sea to the west of Kan'onji City, is a good fishing ground for anchovies, and they have been captured since the late Edo period to be used in the preparation of "Iriko" dried fish.
Once caught, the anchovies are brought to shore and hosed directly from the boats into processing plants. The dried anchovies are steamed within 30 minutes after they are caught, so even without removing the internal organs, the dried fish does not have a harsh taste, and can produce a delicious soup stock. These "Ibuki Iriko" are indispensable for the preparation of "Sanuki Udon," but they can also be eaten as part of "Iriko Meshi" (Iriko rice). By adding Iriko (removing the head and entrails) and seasonal vegetables to the rice during its preparation, the resulting dish allows us to fully enjoy the aroma and umami of the Dashi stock.
At the Uga Shrine in Toyonaka-Cho, Mitoyo City, the Ebi Miso soup, made with fresh Shiba shrimp, is served during the spring and autumn festivals. The shrimp is minced from head to tail with a knife, and nothing is wasted, using even the water used to wash the rice to give it a richer body. It is a local dish that evokes the feelings of gratitude that people from the past harbored for nature's bounty.
< Insular region >
A unique rural culture, born from Shodoshima and the other islands of the region.
Around the islands of the Seto Inland Sea, a wide variety of seafood can be caught, such as Japanese Spanish mackerel and red sea bream in spring, pike conger and shrimp in summer, "Madako" octopus and conger eel in autumn, and Japanese flounder in winter. Shellfish can also be found digging for clams in the spring, and seaweeds such as Igisu and Tengusa are abundant in the summer.
Image source: Agricultural Administration Division, Agricultural and Fisheries Department, Kagawa Prefecture.
In Shodoshima, soy sauce and "Somen" noodles have been produced since ancient times, and agriculture has given life to a diverse culinary culture. In the Edo period, rural "Kabuki" (a form of Japanese classical drama) served as a pastime for farmers. The spectators would bring a “Warigo Bento” lunchbox to share with their families and relatives.
These lunchboxes are made of a wooden box with drawers of various sizes, filled with rice and varied ingredients for 20 to 30 people. Even now, as the "Nakayama rural Kabuki" takes place in early October, it is said that people bring their own Warigo Bento boxes to eat.
Barley and sweet potatoes are abundant on the islands, and so, "Chagayu" is a popular local dish made by boiling rice in tea, letting it grow, and adding sweet potatoes and beans, resulting in a plentiful meal from even a small amount of rice. It is said that in the Shiwaku Islands, which consist of 28 large and small islands such as Honjima in Marugame City, people used to make Chagayu with "Goishicha" tea, which was purchased from the Kochi Prefecture in exchange for Kagawa's salt, cloth, and rice. Because the tea leaves are fermented in two stages, it has a deep astringency and sourness, and can therefore be enjoyed without any additional flavoring.