Feeling kind of icky? Try these Japanese comfort foods

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Feeling kind of icky? Try these Japanese comfort foods

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Japan

Winter is the time where there are more chances of getting sick than in any other seasons. This winter looks no less unforgiving with a very contagious variant of COVID-19 adding another obstacle to the already difficult season.

Though the winter weather hits Japan’s mainland, Okinawa, where I live, isn’t exempt from seasonal troubles. Though the island’s residents enjoy a year-round sub-tropical climate, sensitivities to lower temperatures and catching a  cold or flu are still possible during the winter season.

If you do get sick in Japan, the good news is that there are many delicious foods to help you feel better in no time.

You may have your own list of comfort foods for when you feel under the weather, but below I’ve shared some of my favorite Okinawan dishes I choose when I feel sick. Some of them are traditional, while others are rather what you might call “convenience food.” Either way, these are not difficult to cook or prepare. They can help supply nutrition and make you feel better without too much cost or effort.

Shinjimun

Shinjimun, or decocted soup, is a nourishing Okinawan dish. According to Hiroko Shou, a professor emerita of the University of the Ryukyus, this local food represents the idea of “Yakushoku Dougen (medicine and food have the same origin)”, which is based on Chinese medicine. Common ingredients for Shinjimun are pork, fish, and vegetables. In particular, a decocted soup with pork liver known as “Chimushinji” is valued as a strong revitalizer.

Shinjimun is at the top of my list when it comes to what to eat to fight off a cold. I usually top it with a lot of grated garlic, which naturally adds a strong spiciness. 

Kachuu-yu

This is another very nutritious Okinawan soup, but much easier to prepare than Shinjimun. To prepare this broth, all you need is a handful of dried bonito flakes and a spoonful of miso paste in a bowl. Pour boiled water on top and you have an instant soup ready to boost your energy. “Kachuu” means bonito in Okinawan dialect.

Given the small amount of effort it takes to cook this soup, its taste can be a big surprise. It is worth mentioning that this soup is arguably one of the best ways to taste the “umami” of bonito flakes and enjoy their aroma.

Okayu (rice porridge)

Just like folks in other Asian countries, Okinawans (and Japanese) eat rice porridges, especially when they are down with a cold. It makes perfect sense because this food is easy to digest and can let you replenish nutrition quickly. I often have it with umeboshi (pickled plums).

Energy drink

“Eiyou dorinku,” or energy drinks, are pretty popular for those seeking quick recovery after a long day at work or a long night of partying. However, eiyou dorinku are also handy for when you’re down with a cold or flu. Among the plethora of energy drinks available at the convenience or grocery store, my favorite is “Lipovitan D.” It is all because of its TV ad with the slogan “Fight Ippatsu (one-shot)!,” which was frequently on air when I was a kid. I still feel like chanting the catchline when I have a shot of this time-honored drink.

Cup Ramen

Instant noodles may not be a big help in supplying nutrition, but this guilty pleasure can at least make me feel better. In fact, this is one of a few things I look forward to when I am down with a cold. Although I would normally go for spicy noodles, I go easy on my stomach when I’m sick by choosing those with mild flavors such as “Nissin Chicken Ramen Noodle” or the original “Cup Noodle.”

Make Shinjimun, kachu-yu and okayu at home

 

Shinjimun

Ingredients (for 2 persons)

Pork (lean meat, 460g)

Carrot (one)

Potato (two)

Garlic (one cluster)

Garlic chives (appropriate amount)

Miso paste (two spoonfuls)

Water (1,400cc)

 

Recipe

1 Shave fat off pork and slice it into small pieces.

2 Heat water (1,400ml) in a pot over medium flame. Put sliced pork in the pot.

3 Scoop and remove foam.

4 Loosely cover the pot with a lid, leaving a little gap to let the steam escape.

5 Slice a carrot into small pieces and add to the pork in the pot.

6 Slice potatoes into small pieces and rinse them with water. Add them to the mixture in the pot. Loosely cover the pot with a lid.

7 Separate head of garlic and peel cloves. Add half of them to the mixture in the pot. Grate the rest of the garlic cloves and set aside.

8 Slice garlic chives into small pieces.

9 Once the pork and potatoes in the pot are cooked through, add in miso paste, grated garlic, and sliced garlic chives.

10 Stir the soup and ingredients over low flame. Kill the flame before you serve up the soup in a bowl. 

(It took roughly 45 minutes to cook through)

 

Kachu-yu (for one person)

Ingredients

Dried bonito flakes (a handful)

Miso paste (a spoonful)

 

Recipe

1 Put dried bonito flakes and miso paste in a bowl.

2 Pour boiled water on top.

3 Cover the bowl with a plate.

Okayu

Ingredients (for two persons)

Rice (200cc)

Water (1,200cc)

 

Recipe

1 Heat up rice and water in a pot over high flame. Cover the pot with a lid.

2 Take off the lid and see if the water has come to a boil.

3 Put the lid back on leaving a little gap. Adjust the heat to medium flame.

4 Stir the rice at times to prevent it from sticking to each other. Put the lid back on.

5 It is ready when the rice softens to the core.

*Customize the flavor with various ingredients like umeboshi, azuki beans or seasoned cod roe.

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