Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

I'm back from Japan after another pretty long stay! I've been spending more and more time back 'home' these past couple of years, but my real home is still over here. Striking a balance between the two is not easy, but interesting to say the least!

One of the main themes of Just Hungry since its inception is re-creating Japanese cuisine using the fresh ingredients you can obtain locally, using Japanese cooking methods and some key Japanese flavoring ingredients. Until recently I've tried to limit myself as much as possible to pantry staples when it comes to Japanese ingredients. However, it's come to my attention that some fresh ingredients that are quintessential to Japanese cuisine are becoming easier to find, especially in places like San Francisco or New York. I have to grow my own to get my hands on these...or just enjoy them when I'm in Japan.

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Myoga or Myouga (みょうが, 茗荷)is one such ingredient. Sometimes called myoga ginger, the botanical name is zingiber mioga. It's a deciduous perennial plant, and only the young, tender flower buds are eaten. Raw myouga buds taste like a cross between fresh ginger shoots and mild pickling onion, but without any strong onion-y flavor. They look like slender shallots.

Myouga is usually eaten as a garnish, sliced very thinly. Like fresh ginger, it has a refreshing, zingy quality. The slices are very pretty, as you can see here.

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Cultivated myouga is available all year round in Japan, but its true season is June to July. Myouga is a wonderful garnish on hiyayakko, cold tofu, and its great eaten with cold noodles, especially somen (thin wheat noodles), though they're very nice with cold soba noodles instead of, or in addition to, chopped green onions. Myouga tempura is also very nice; just slice in half, and follow the basic instructions for vegetable tempura.

Have you seen myouga for sale at your local Japanese grocery store? Have you tried it? Right now, I'm doing some research to see if this sub-tropical plant will grow at all in sunny but dry southern France. Ah, the things expats do to recapture the flavors of home. ^_^;

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