If you have been to Nagano, you might be familiar with Soba, as well as Oyaki, which is a Japanese dumpling stuffed with red bean paste (anko) or Japanese vegetables such as Nozawana, a leaf vegetable.
Oyaki is made from fermented soba or wheat. Historically, farmers in Nagano planted soba and wheat in stead of rice. Because Nagano’s steep mountains and cold climate made rice cultivation difficult for a long time. Even though Nagano yields abundant rice now, but it’s relatively new to cultivate rice here in Nagano. Soba and Oyaki represent mountainous Nagano’s dry weather.
An interesting thing about Japanese food is that every food has colorful stories to tell! In this article I wish to share with you an amazing delicacy called Yashouma (やしょうま) which comes from my village!
Two or three days before February 15th, Buddhist temples in my village gather rice and have make Yashouma. Kids went to temples and got beautiful Yashouma with joy. It is said if you have a Yashouma, it prevents you from sickness or it keeps you away from a poisonous snakes. If you put it in your horse’s harness, it protects your horse from injuries. That’s why there were people who believed in such magical effects and carried it.
Why is it called Yashouma?
There’re two hypotheses. Legend has it that Princess Yasodhara(耶輸陀羅 Yashodara was the wife of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Buddha) made it and served it to Buddha. And Buddha said, “Oh,Yasho, it was tasty (やしょよ、うまかったぞ)”. It is said the name of Yashouma was based on this episode. But why did Buddha say it in Japanese ? It remains a mystery!
There’s another story behind the name of Yashouma. Nagano prefecture has a lot of legends about horses. If you take a look at temples, you may see horse statues instead of a dog-shaped guardian, Komainu (狛犬 こまいぬ). According to “The history of Sakai village” (it is a part of Chikuhoku village now), Yashouma might mean a skinny (やせた Yaseta) horse（馬 うま Uma).
How to make Yashouma
Kneading powdered rice repeatedly and adding artificial colorants or natural colorings. Some people add sesame, beans and the like. Yashouma is about 5cm-6cm in diameter and 30cm in length. And cut it like 1cm in length. There’re varieties of patterns such as Japanese apricot, cherry blossom, pine and moon, Japanese apricot and bush warbler, iris, camellia, Bodhidharma (だるま), and more! I have heard that there’s a Yashouma with Nagano prefecture’s shape on it for a special event which represents the prefecture’s local food.
What does it taste like?
What does beautiful Yashuma taste like ? To be honest, its taste is very plain because the main ingredient is powdered rice. When you eat Yashouma, you need to sauté or microwave it. And you should add soy sauce or salt and the like. But, the thing is, I’m a local specialty advisor and working with a local Yashouma maker in this village to improve its quality and sales. Maybe you can taste beautiful and delicious Yashouma in the near future!