Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Andansu Miso

Posted by Maki Nako
             We all have our comfort foods or soul foods that we enjoy throughout our lives, with their tastes and smells bringing back memories in quick flashbacks like photographs in our minds. Home-cooked spaghetti sauce that has just the right amount of spices, blueberry pancakes on Sunday mornings, steaming sukiyaki hot pot on cold winter nights, and tuna casserole topped with breadcrumbs and baked to perfection. But among the list of my all-time favorites, is an item that isn’t a meal on its own, but an addition with so much presence that it manages, on occasions, to take center stage. This is andansu.
              Andansu, (pronounced un-dun-soo) in the Okinawan language, literally means oil and miso. It is prepared with pieces of pork or skipjack tuna mixed with sweet miso paste. Like the rest of Japan, Okinawa’s staple diet is rice. And just like with bread in western cultures, rice is served with the main course or enjoyed on its own, often with sprinkle toppings, seaweed, pickled vegetables, or whatever else to add some pizazz. Although some people like to spread andansu on their toast or other bread, it’s more popular served with rice. Since moving to Okinawa, I’ve never met anyone here who disliked a hot bowl of glittering white rice topped with a generous portion of andansu.
              At the onigiri (rice-ball) section at every convenience store, you will most definitely find a row of andansu-filled onigiri among a selection from tuna-and-mayonnaise, salmon-flakes, ume plums or seaweed fillings, just to name a few. It is also sometimes found in bento boxes (boxed meals), and all supermarkets throughout Okinawa carry at least a brand or two of ready-to-serve andansu. Okinawan households have their own special “tastes” of andansu, perhaps with recipes passed down from one generation to the next. With pretty much the same ingredients needed to prepare it, you wouldn’t think that its taste would vary so much, but every type I’ve ever tasted, from those bought at farmers’ markets and grocery stores to mom ‘n pop diners and friends’ family recipes, they are all so distinctly different, and all so pleasantly delicious.
               You can find them in sealed jars at souvenir shops and at the airport to take some home with you or bring as gifts. But do keep an eye out for the andansu when in Okinawa, as its distinctive taste will certainly be a fond reminder of these unique islands.