It’s my final week in Kumamoto, which means getting around to all of those things I promised myself I would do before (and never did) or the things I just discovered in the past month and wondered why I had no idea they existed. The karashi renkon class at Murakami was a combination of both – I filed it away months ago after I heard of it, forgot about it and then convinced myself I couldn’t leave Kumamoto without giving it a whirl.
I both stand by and regret that choice. 😉
What is karashi renkon, you ask? It’s a Kumamoto specialty, not found in hardly any other place in Japan. It involves stuffing a lotus root with a combination of spicy mustard and miso and then battering it and deep-frying it, before slicing it up for consumption. And when I say spicy mustard, I mean SPICY.
Murakami is a small shop in the old jokamachi (castle district) of Kumamoto, now run by the third generation of family members. The shop itself may only be 55 years old, but the specialty of karashi renkon has been served in Kumamoto for over three centuries. Noritoshi Murakami, our instructor for the day, started off our course with a brief history of the delicacy. Apparently, the lord of Kumamoto (Kato Kiyomasa) became incredibly ill one day with a high fever and various other symptoms. An enterprising cook prepared the spicy concoction, which alleviated the fever and restored his health. (Apparently, lotus roots are packed with Vitamin C, which may have had something to do with the “miraculous” healing.)
We began our instruction by taking the lotus root and smashing it into a tray of spicy mustard mixed with miso. The motion filled the holes of the lotus and when the entire root was packed, we siphoned off any extra and gave the root a wipe. Next, we rolled it into a wet batter of flour and turmeric powder before dropping it into a vat of hot oil. An ingenious system moved it in a circle for the perfect amount of time until it dropped into a bin, perfectly fried up and ready to go.
Murakami-san sliced up his own karashi renkon for us to taste while he wrapped up ours. As much as I like the taste in very small doses, attempting to down three large slices of the freshly-fried treat was … one of the more difficult things I have had to do in a while! Let’s just say my nasal passages won’t be troubling me at all for … ohhhhh, a good year or two.
The karashi renkon experience takes about 45 minutes and costs ¥1300 per person. That includes the tasting on-site as well as a huge karashi renkon to carry home with you. You do need to make a reservation for the class, at least one day in advance. The Murakami family doesn’t speak any English so either go with a Japanese-speaking friend or volunteer guide or go with a lot of patience and a willingness to use many gestures! 🙂 You’ll be welcomed either way. The shop is easily accessed via the Kumamoto tram line, a 2-minute walk from the Daniyamamachi tram stop.