Basically every meal in Japan is served with rice. Everyone knows that.
But some time ago, I started wondering why rice? If you actually stop to think about how labor intensive and land consuming growing rice actually is, you have to wonder how each prefecture is able to produce enough to feed the population.
Then, I went to Yamanashi prefecture. At a restaurant in Yamanashi prefecture, we ordered the traditional Yamanashi dish, Hoto.And surprisingly enough, it didn’t come with rice. It was actually a thick soup with gigantic noodles and lots of vegetables.
Houtou is a Japanese one-pot dish which vegetables, meat, and noodles/dumplings are simmered in miso based soup. It’s a local specialty in the Yamanashi prefecture (where we happened to be driving through in time for lunch). Chiaki explained to me that Yamanashi is actually famous for its inability to grow rice adequately. Apparently it is too cold, mountainous, and there is lots of lava and volcanic debris buried in the soil.
Instead, the prefecture focused on silk farming, and then grew wheat in the smaller lots to counteract raging food shortages.
Wheat farming spread to neighboring prefectures – so that each one has some sort of flour based traditional dish. Yamanashi’s specialty, as I said before, was Hoto, a soup that uses thick, flat flour noodles (similar to udon).
If you want to make Hoto, go ahead. I took this recipe (and made a simplified variation of it a couple days ago) – it works pretty well.
- 7 oz. fresh houtou (wheat noodles) or udon noodles
- 3 1/2 cup dashi soup
- 2 oz thinly sliced pork, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 aburaage (deep-fried tofu), slice into 1/2 inch wide strips
- 3 oz carrot, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick quarter rounds
- 3 oz daikon radish, sliced into 1/4 inch thick quarter rounds
- 2 leaves hakusai Chinese cabbage, cut into 1 inch wide pieces
- 1/2 lb kabocha, cut into about 1 inch cubes
- 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp miso
Put dashi soup in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add pork, carrot, and daikon in the soup and simmer on medium heat until softened. Add hakusai and aburaage and simmer until hakusai is softened. Add some hot water if needed. Put udon noodles and kabocha in the soup and simmer until udon is cooked. Season with miso. Stop the heat.
*Makes 2 servings
If you order it at a restaurant, it comes in a small black kettle with smaller bowls and spoons. It is common to split one Hoto between two people, or two Hoto between three people. Each has a different taste.
Ours was a nice vegetable one that tasted strongly like Miso. I loved it.
The bowls are small enough so that you can alter the taste (by switching between Hoto pots). You can drink the broth as well, though it is a bit thick.
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