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Japan Condiments Series: Shishito Peppers

Japan condiment series:  Karaisuke!

Many of you may or may not be familiar with shishito peppers, the lion's head.   It's a widely recognized East Asian pepper all over the world that is often grilled and served either as it is, or as a condiment which can complement a wide range of food including Japanese white rice.   Even still many people are not aware of how prevalent this condiment is in Japanese cuisine today.

Since the days of Japanese Statesmen Ito Hirobumi,  spices like Togarashi were given to the Japanese by European traders in exchange for matchlocks, like many other commodities.    Kaiseki / or fine Japanese dining was incompatible with spicy food at that time, and still is among some foodies of today.   During the Korean Annexation, Japanese Statesman Ito Hirobumi gave the Koreans togarashi since it was impossible to incorporate it in traditional Japanese Kaiseki.  In order to perfect Korean kimchi, because original Korean Kimchi was just a brine with vegetables, not the spicy stuff foreign tourist and Koreans gobble up like it's their creation today, this new condiment was introduced.    As time went on Togarashi made its way back onto Japanese plates in the form of Japanese kimchi, but again, not everybody had adopted kimchi as a mainstay in the Japanese diet.   Next came shishito peppers ground up and served as a condiment and is considered more compatible with some Japanese food due to its relative mildness.

In reality,  for many centuries northerners in places like the Chuetsu region of Niigata enjoyed adding a very small amount of homegrown spices like shishito peppers to their rice and pickled foods.  This addition to Japanese cuisine reemerged and became a part of Japanese condiments.   Most locals in Niigata, from time to time, add it to their premium white rice, meats, or pickled vegetable.   Even soups.

Right now, as I am typing this, I am enjoying eating it over a bowl of Koshihikari brown rice ( husks still intact) and it is quite delicious.    If I were to rate this condiment according to the Scoville hot pepper scale, it would be about 500 heat units which is very mild and almost sweet.   It can definitely add a little flavor to food.

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