Book cafe&hall ゆかるひ: Making “oyaki”

oyaki おやき: a style of dumplings from Nagano prefecture

I went to a workshop organized by a company called “Table Watch”— to learn how to make dumplings from an Okinawan obaachan, Yaka-san. Oyaki is a traditional Nagano food.

The Book cafe&hall Yukaruhi is located on the 3rd floor of the Yaka Building in Naha (Yaka-san’s family owns the building, hence the name Yaka Building). There is a big sign in front that says “Vegan OK!” Nice. Inside, it is part crafts workshop, part cafe, part music hall… there are many aspects to this place.

Anyway, I registered with Ayako-san the workshop coordinator for Table Watch, received my name tag and hair net, along with the other attendees (both Japanese and American).

Yaka-san started us off with explaining about oyaki and showing us pictures of different fillings, as well as the more traditional cooking methods in ashes. Then she sang us a special song she wrote about oyaki for the class. It was awesome, and explained the oyaki-making process. She was born and raised in Okinawa, but when she got married moved with her husband to Nagano. She recently returned to open the cafe here in Okinawa.

Then we got to start making our own dough. Just flour, lukewarm water, baking powder, and sugar, mixed and kneaded until the texture was “like a baby’s cheek” (赤ちゃんのほっぺ!). Next the dough has to rest.

For the fillings, we used 3 different types: nozawana (pickled greens) with spicy red pepper added, shiri-shiri kabocha (grated pumpkin sautéed with red miso), and zucchini slices sandwiched with sweet light miso. All 3 were delicious. She taught us the basic techniques for the fillings and let us sample.

Next we divided out the dough, and learned how to make the shape… it is kinda like when you stretch out a pizza dough except you want to keep the center part fat and make it thin around the edges. Add the filling and then wrap the edges up (similar technique to making nikuman or other Chinese dumplings). From here they were flipped over (so pinched side on the bottom), put onto a small square of parchment paper, and steamed for about 10-15 minutes. You can also fry and then steam or just bake if you so desire.

Once we were finished, we got to relax and eat our oyaki with some black bean tea and sobagaki. Sobagaki is another regional dish made form soba flour mixed with hot water and stirred in a bowl, until it becomes a mashed-potato-like dough ball. The dough is then torn into bite-sized pieces and dipped in a sauce, like shoyu or spicy pepper dressing. It kinda reminded me a little of poi, a little sticky and chewy. Everything was delicious and I really enjoyed myself. Yaka-san was so cute and friendly.

Anyway, the cafe is open during the day Thursday through Monday, so be sure to stop in for a delicious oyaki snack sometime! She also serves some meat things and cafe drinks as well as the vegan oyaki. I also recommend trying a workshop organized by the Table Watch company!

pictures on imgur:

address for cafe, open Thurs-Mon 11am-7pm:

Oyaki recipe: this is mostly just for the skin, the filling is sort of up to you but I include some ideas!

Makes 10 oyaki skins:

-300 g of Chuurikiko 中力粉: medium strength flour used for udon making (about 9% protein strength)

-1 teaspoon baking powder

-2.5 teaspoon granulated sugar

-180 cc warm water

Mix together the ingredients with chopsticks until it becomes more dough-like then knead like bread, with a little extra flour to keep from sticking, until springy (Japanese like to say “until it is the texture of a baby cheek”). Let it rest for awhile, at least 30 minutes so it gets elasticity.

Prepare your filling, whatever you want (seriously anything), just can’t be too wet as excess water causes the oyaki skin to crack as it cooks!

In our workshop we had 3 different fillings: 1) nozawana 野沢菜, a type of pickled greens from Nagano which is easy to find in Japan grocery stores… spinach or something could also be good, just be sure to squeeze the water before filling the dumpling skin with the cooked spinach. 2) We also used shredded kabocha sautéed with red miso. 3) zucchini cut in 2cm round, then sliced not quite in a half, stuffed with sweet light miso like a sandwich. **Basically, anything goes, just nothing with too much water.

Divide the dough into pieces, then shape into a ball shape. Stretch it out slowly from the sides kinda like when making a pizza dough, keeping the middle a little fat (keeps the skin from breaking while steaming), and thinner on the sides. In the middle add your filling and then wrap the sides up like a little package, pinching in the middle to close it. Yaka-san said don’t worry too much about the shape of the oyaki, if it is rounder or flatter– it shows your personality, apparently. Put them onto a small piece of parchment paper in a steamer basket (if you are steaming them).

Steam 10-15 minutes. OR pan-fry for 3 minutes each side and then steam OR just bake them. In the workshop we steamed them, and this would be the healthiest option.

Snow Monkeys and Nabe: 猿と鍋

猿 saru means “monkey.” 野猿  yaen means wild monkey, meaning the wild Japanese macaque.

After the New Year in January, I took a short trip to Yamanouchi (山ノ内) in Nagano prefecture (長野県) to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani onsen 地獄谷温泉 (translation: hell valley hot springs) and yaen-kouen 野猿公苑 (wild monkey park). We stayed at the Korakukan Ryokan, literally right outside the monkey park, and obviously wild monkeys are a common site outside your window. It was pretty amazing.

The Korakukan ryokan is a bit “rustic,” to be polite, but despite the older facilities, the location and the food were absolutely amazing. Waking up to monkeys outside is just pretty darn cool. I will admit, the onsen themselves are only okay (but if you are very lucky a monkey might join you, so that is a bonus), and the facilities do take a bit to get used to (so do not come in with high expectations). It may not be the most comfortable place to stay in terms of amenities or luxury, but the experience is one I will never forget.

The first day, we landed in Tokyo and stayed the night, catching the early morning train over to Nagano, and continuing on to Yamanouchi (last stop was Yudanaka station). We stopped here and had Japanese soba for lunch. From there a bus will take you to a bus stop where many onsen resorts are located just outside the monkey park area, but the ryokan that is inside the monkey park area is a a decent hike through the snow (there is another road that gets you closer to the ryokan and park, but it closes during winter, so the bus stops at the area just outside by the beginning of the walking path). Yes, we could have stayed in a classier place, more facilities and luxuries, but all those places were much further from the monkey park than the Korakukan ryokan (which was literally at the monkey park). There is also a recommended area called Shibu onsen 渋温泉, which is an adorable onsen town that we explored one of the days during our stay, but alas, I was going for the monkeys. And since my number one reason for this trip was monkeys, as such the rustic ryokan was it. So definitely consider your priorities before booking this trip: do you want to be right by monkeys all the time (literally outside your window, in your baths, hanging out near the dining hall) or would you prefer convenience (to town, restaurants, or well… everything), nice facilities, small luxuries, more/fancier onsen, less trudging through snow/ice ?

We trudged through the light snow with our luggage (remember, pack light for this one). I would recommend a suitcase that you can carry like a backpack. And those traction things you can put over your shoes is a really good idea, there was quite a bit of ice in spots and especially useful for the downhill parts to not go skidding down on your bum. Luckily when we went there was only a bit of snow and the heavy winter storms had not hit yet (seriously, we missed some awful weather by just over a week), so it was not terrible. We arrived safely, got settled with our belongings, checked out our quaint facilities, and immediately headed to the park to see some monkeys before closing time!

Of course, this place is a happening tourist spot during the day time operating hours, and of course completely empty during closed hours. But I got to see some monkeys and observe them for awhile. They are so cute. But we did have to leave and went down to catch a bath and dinner at the ryokan.

The onsen bath was pretty scalding hot, and the faucet water pretty darn cold, so it was interesting to say the least. However, I got clean so I cannot complain too much. Plus there were some outdoor baths and you could glimpse some monkeys during twilight.

For dinner, nabe 鍋 (hotpot) was the main item for the meal, with several accompanying dishes. If you have never had nabe in the mountains of rural Japan during winter, you must try this! It was amazing. I had a vegetarian nabe, and my husbands was for omnivores. His also came with fried locust; he said they were crunchy and not too bad. With my yukata and coat (known as a hanten 袢纏) on, sitting at the table near the heaters drinking a beer and eating warm nabe with mountain vegetables, life was good. Plus a few monkeys ran down the hall outside the dining building.

The next day, we woke up early, grabbed an early morning bath (the guys bath was lucky and had monkeys join them) and checked out the monkey park before opening. Seriously, I could probably watch monkeys for the better part of a day. Over night it had snowed and so you could see monkey prints throughout the valley.

Afterwards, we headed towards town (through the snow path) and enjoyed touring about, as well as tasting beer at the Teppa Room, sake (nihonshu 日本酒), manjuu, and yet more onsen (a bit more upscale than our ryokan, so… ). There were some temples/shrines, and the town sites in Shibu onsen. When we returned for the day, we went back yet again to look at some monkeys before dinner time. The second dinner was another nabe with a little bit different variety. Again, it was an amazing meal. Throughout the day, I had chatted with various mainlanders about Okinawa, which seemed to interest them. Oh, and it snowed again overnight.

The last day we had to head out early after a quick bath, trudging back through the snowy path to town with our luggage. We trained back to Nagano where we stopped for a walk around and lunch before heading to the airport in Tokyo. I got some fresh apple juice and baked apple goodies; yum! I wanted to take a bag of apples back to Okinawa (apples are sort of expensive in Okinawa), but figured that was not really feasible. But I did pick up some other omiyage to take back home to friends and coworkers.I also got an amazake 甘酒 soft serve (yes in the middle of winter… but it was amazake flavor!). My husband tried a sake (nihonshu 日本酒) sampler . We really enjoyed our stop in Nagano, and realized that we should plan a separate trip just to visit Nagano properly.

Below are some images from the trip. Here is a link to the full album, in case you cannot get enough  monkey pictures. I did not take any inside the ryokan, as at the time I figured it was too rustic.