Last weekend, I went to the annual Powell St. festival held in historical Japantown here in Vancouver. It’s a two-day event with free theater performances, music concerts, tea ceremonies, martial arts demonstrations…you name it! My favorite part is the vendors who set up shop in the park and all along the streets, selling a whole variety of Japanese goods made mostly by local artisans.
And of course, there’s all the traditional Japanese festival food, with plenty of vegetarian/vegan options! Rice milk ice cream, cakes filled with sweet red bean paste, veggie sushi, grilled rice balls, shaved ice desserts, vegetable gyoza…
I also attended a tea ceremony, where green matcha tea was served in the traditional style. Each individual bowl of matcha was prepared by hand using a bamboo whisk. When whisked properly, the tea forms a light froth on the surface and has a very rich and smooth texture. Many people tell me that they find it bitter, but I don’t really notice it at all. It’s mostly just very creamy and foamy. Such a treat!
My unique find of the day was a vendor who was selling homemade rice koji, or shio koji. It’s essentially rice that has been fermented using the same process that is involved in the production of traditional foods like soy sauce, miso paste, and Japanese rice wine. Rice koji paste has a strong salty flavour, but less sodium than actual salt, so you end up using far less in your cooking. Most of all, it is loved for its umami flavour — that delicious savory taste akin to MSG (but of course from an entirely natural process, with zero MSG!).
Back at home, I used some of the rice koji for cooking up some vegetables and they came out tasting exactly as though I had cooked them in Japanese rice wine! Absolutely amazing!