Summer vegetables have the power to cool
I went to the Todoroki Valley in southern Tokyo the other day. Thanks to the verdant foliage over the trilling stream, the temperature was about 5 degrees cooler than in the city. As I ambled along a footpath, I came across a slender waterfall that Buddhist monks use for training. The cascading water formed a refreshing parabola. I had the idle thought that the water hitting the crown of my head should instantly whip me into shape.
The tsuyu rainy season has been declared over in many parts of Japan, and summer is now here in full force. To beat the heat, I tried a dish called hiya jiru (literally, cold soup) for a start. A Miyazaki Prefecture specialty, it's a very simple fare of chilled miso-based soup poured over a bowl of plain boiled rice. Like when you've popped an ice cube in your mouth, the dish definitely cooled me off. The refreshing sensation was enhanced by the crunchy texture of the bits of cucumber and myoga (a kind of ginger native to Japan) in the chilled soup.
Judy Ongg, a Taiwan-born actress and singer, is well-versed in the Chinese culinary tradition of incorporating ingredients with medicinal benefits into one's diet. She told me once, "Summer vegetables have the power to eliminate heat from your body." Any food in season seems to pack nutrients that help us eat our way to health.
Novelist Shotaro Ikenami (1920-1990) noted in his essay titled "Tokyo no Natsu" (Summer in Tokyo) that when the summer heat took away his appetite for breakfast, he made do with pickled eggplant. He wrote: "The sheer pleasure of biting into a small (pickled) eggplant, with a dab of mustard, is simply beyond words."茄子
People in the old days knew how to cool their bodies from within with the aid of garden-fresh summer vegetables. They also knew how to revive their flagging appetite by jolting the palate and gullet with something cold, peppery hot or sour. There is no reason for us not to borrow their wisdom. The scorching summer heat will surely get us down if all we do is slurp cold somen noodles in an air-conditioned room.
Tokihiko Kusama (1920-2003), a haiku poet known as an epicure, penned this piece: "From the basin of a waterfall/ A chilled tomato/ Makes an escape." Perhaps the tomato had fallen out of a net bag behind a rock outcropping. Picturing in my mind's eye a small red globe bobbing away and disappearing down the clear stream, I get temporary relief from the heat.
The cooling power of vegetables, amply boosted under the blazing summer sun, is not to be taken lightly.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 20(IHT/Asahi: July 28,2008)