Hiroshige was one of the six great masters of Ukiyo-e, a genre of Japanese painting and woodblock prints. He is mostly famous for his Japanese landscapes, which he depicted in subtle and poetic manner. Hiroshige was born in 1797 in the Yayosu Quay, an area of Edo (today’s Tokyo), which was named after the 17th century Dutch adventurer Jan Joosten. Hiroshige was a fire warden there, just like his father before. His parents died when he was only 12 years old. Just before his death Hiroshige’s father passed onto him the duty of fire prevention at Edo Castle. Hiroshige eventually gave up his post and focused entirely on painting and printmaking.
At the age of fourteen Hiroshige became a pupil of a celebrated printmaker Utagawa Toyohiro at the Utagawa School. Influenced by the popular “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” by Hokusai, Hiroshige produced his first critically acclaimed landscape series “ Famous Views of the Eastern Capital”, and few years later the groundbreaking series of prints, “Fifty-three Stations of Tokaido”. In this series he captured the journey along the Tokaido road, which was connecting Edo with Kyoto, the imperial capital.
In his lyrical landscapes Hiroshige showed like no other artist the tender and intimate beauty of Japan. Mist over picturesque villages, rain falling onto the fishing boats, snow-covered mountain tops and moonlight scenes all played an important role in building the atmosphere of his poetic imagery. In his print series “Eight Views of Lake Biwa” and his own “ Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” his special talent for expressing the mood of different seasons and changing weather conditions is very pronounced.
Hiroshige’s prints of birds and flowers were also an enormous success. He produced an estimate of 5000 prints in his lifetime. At the end of his life Hiroshige became Buddhist monk and at the same period started making “One Hundred Famous views of Edo”. He died at the age of 61 during the great cholera epidemic in Edo.
His work had a profound influence on the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism artists, like Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and especially Vincent van Gogh who even copied two prints from “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” into oil painting.
“I leave my brush in the East
And set forth on my journey
I shall see the famous places in the Western Land”
Deep-fried Eggplant with Soba Noodles
Koi is a Japanese word for carp fish. There’s a strong symbolism ascribed to koi fish in Chinese and Japanese culture. As a Chinese legend tells, koi was the creature with great courage who swam upstream to Dragon’s Gate at the top of a large waterfall on Yellow River. When he reached the goal of his journey he turned into a dragon, a creature of great power. In this story carp symbolizes perseverance, bravery, endurance, ambition, success and prosperity. It teaches us that anyone who tries hard enough can achieve great things.
In Japan Koi represents good fortune. It is one of the most recognizable and famous motifs in the art of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Carp also has a strong Buddhist connotation, symbolizing endurance in suffering and finding Zen. Further it is a very popular motif in painting, feng shui decor, and tattoo art.
Nasu No Agebitashi is a popular Japanese eggplant dish. Eggplant is first deep-fried and then soaked in dashi based stock. I found these beautiful eggplants on the market. They are not Japanese eggplants though, which are long and thin. There are many varieties of eggplant, coming in a wide range of size, shape and colour, and some cool names, like Black Magic, Prosperosa and Tycoon. It is also technically a fruit, botanically classified as a berry. Eggplant is also called Aubergine, a name that I actually prefer and use when speaking.
Traditionally dashi stock is made with Kombu, a type of kelp, and Katsuobushi, dried and smoked skipjack tuna which is available in a form of shavings. It has a distinctive Umami flavour. Nowadays Bonito fish flakes are commonly used as a cheap alternative for tuna. Yes, we are running out of fish.
Kombu is a staple in Japanese cuisine. While making a vegetarian dashi stock we simply soak a piece of kombu in water. It gives the stock a subtle umami flavour. Dashi stock is a base for many Japanese dishes, but mainly for miso soup, which is my absolute favourite.
I gave Nasu No Agebitashi my own twist using wakame seaweed for fish flavour and serving it with aromatic Cha (tea) Soba noodles. Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour. Green tea gives Cha Soba noodles a lovely aroma and a light green colour. Soba noodles are perfect to be eaten cold with Mentsuyu dipping sauce. Here I use a vegetarian version of course, without the Bonito flakes.
The combination of fleshy deep-fried eggplant, aromatic green tea soba noodles, sea-flavoured wakame, sweet and piquant Gari (young pickled ginger) is really wonderful. I soaked the wakame in water with a bit of salt, because it didn’t have much flavour at first. It depends for what purpose you are using it. If you cover it with soy sauce or put it in a soup, salt is not needed. For this dish, which overall isn’t salty, I used it as a topping, so I added some salt. I also used quite a lot of wakame, simply because I’m crazy about it. A few grams of seaweed seem like nothing, but soaked in water in expands many times its dried volume.
- 3 small eggplants
- 500ml sunflower oil
- 200g Organic Cha Soba noodles
- 3-4g dried Wakame
- 1 spring onion
- 25g pickled ginger
- 10g Kombu (dried kelp)
- 300ml of water
- 1 cup Kombu Dashi
- 4 Tbsp Mirin
- 4 Tbsp sake
- 4 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp cane sugar
Heat up kombu and water in a medium pot slowly. Skim the surface from time to time. Remove the kombu just before the dashi reaches boiling point. Line the sieve with linen cloth or paper towel and strain the dashi into a bowl.
Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pot to 180C. Meanwhile cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Make shallow diagonal incisions in the skin with intervals of few millimetres. Cut each half vertically into four parts. Put the pieces of eggplant, skin facing down, in hot oil and deep-fry for 2-3 minutes. Do it in batches so the eggplant has enough space to fry properly. Drain the eggplant pieces on a paper towel or a wire rack.
In a small sauce pan combine the ingredients for the Mentsuyu sauce. Bring it to boil. Place the eggplant pieces bottoms down, preferably in one layer, in a wide oven dish. Pour the hot sauce over the eggplant and let it marinate for an hour.
While the eggplant is marinating soak the wakame in a bowl of (lightly salted) warm water for 10 minutes. Drain, squeeze the excess water out and cut the wakame into smaller pieces. Set aside. Thinly slice the spring onion and drain the pickled ginger.
Cook the noodles according to the instruction on the package. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Drain again.
Divide the noodles into for soup or salad bowls. Place the eggplant pieces on the sides and pour some sauce over. Top with wakame, spring onion and ginger.