Pancakes, sakura and sansai

BreadFresh bread - is there anything better?

It was my friend Ai’s birthday (お誕生日 – o-tanjoubi) today. I had an early morning start cos I didn’t have any money for a present, so baked some bread instead! Then headed over to Ai’s for a slap-up pancake breakfast – all quite spontaneous, but ended up making some yummy banana pancakes (American style fat ones with bananas mushed into the batter!) and splurging out on chocolate sauce and raspberry compote.

Then it was off for a spot of sansai collecting around Niseko Higashiyama. Hokkaido is well known for its wild vegetables and the Japanese love to spend sunny days gathering them.

Sakura + YoteiYatta!

On the way, Shiori abruptly veered off the road and headed down a dusty track before stopping in front of a beautiful cherry tree in the middle of a field. We were a little too early so it wasn’t in full bloom yet, but perfectly placed with Mt Yotei providing a bit of background balance. Spring throughout Japan is sakura season, where everyone celebrates the fleeting nature of cherry blossoms and the analogy with life… by getting horrendously drunk at hanami (花見 – flower viewing) parties. Just another example of how Japanese culture isn’t always as Zen as people would have you believe 🙂


We moved on to Niseko Village itself, which is one of the 3 main ski areas here in the winter. Last time I saw it, there was a good 3m of snow covering everything, so the verdant, agricultural landscape was quite a surprise. Shiori led us off into what turned out to be the golf course and we were soon ferreting around in the sassa grass (a type of bamboo). I had no idea what I was looking for but kept pointing at things that looked like they might be tasty – we mostly found takenoko (bamboo shoots), but also taranome (an asparagus like thing on a spiky plant – great as tempura) and udo (bitter tasting, wasn’t that keen on it – not to be confused with udon noodles. Now that would be great sansai!).

Back at Ai’s place, I discovered just how much effort it takes to prepare bamboo shoots. First we trimmed it, then boiled it and finally peeled back the fibrous layers to uncover the light green and yellow shoots (it no longer surprises me that pandas are nearly extinct). Well worth it though as they were delightfully tender and tasty with a trace of bitterness. Quite a contrast to the chewy, yellow stuff that I’m used to finding in tins! Delicious alongside taranome tempura and yakiniku (meat and veg communally fried on a teppan – hotplate) with a nice bottle of wine and the company of friends – おいしいそう!!!

Takenoko - Pick them...Takenoko - Pick them...

...boil them......boil them...

...peel them......peel them...

...ready to eat!...ready to eat!