Namako Yasai is a Japanese miso-based soup in which the sea cucumber is the star of the meal while the vegetables are side dishes that combines to make the main dish. Namako is the sea cucumber and Yasai refers to the vegetables in Japanese. It tastes best when it’s hot and paired with green tea which makes it an ideal meal during chill days.
Elements of Namako Yasai
Namako Yasai which consists of vegetarian sea cucumbers, Japanese sweet potatoes, pumpkins and button mushrooms are usually served with a choice of main carbs such as udon, ramen or soba. In addition to sea cucumber, the vegetables also play an important part in this dish. This is because the combination of colourful vegetables and freshly cooked sea cucumber complement each other to make this dish healthy and appetising. Many nutrients such as vitamins and fibre are in the dish so, fret not and enjoy!
History of Namako (Sea cucumber)
Namako means “sea slugs” or “sea mice” and “gamat” in Malaysia and “trepang” in Indonesia. The history of namako can be traced back to the year 759 in Japan, where dried sea cucumber was considered a delicacy among the imperial household and samurai warriors. The cooking of sea cucumbers were also documented in one of the earliest periods during the Qing and Ming dynasties.
According to the Chinese literature in Ming dynasties, the namako or sea cucumber resembles a man’s genitals and it is believed to strengthen that part of the body after consuming the dish. With that, the Qing historical records stated that the sea cucumber has an enhancing effect and great medicinal qualities on men’s urological faculties. Sea cucumber have also been the source of inspiration for many ‘haiku’ (a very short form of Japanese poem), where they are called namako.
Varieties of Namako
There are numerous varieties of sea cucumber including prickly sea cucumber, white teat sea cucumber and bald sea cucumber. The type of Japanese-grown sea cucumbers usually harvested is the prickly sea cucumber. This particular type is the highest quality and is largest as compared to other variants of sea cucumber which makes it the most expensive as well. As market competitions occur globally, Mexico is regarded as one of the new exporters for reasonable pricing and quality of sea cucumbers. It is suggested to choose those with firm flesh and healthy skin, and the red one is generally softer and tastier.
When to get Namako?
In Japan, it is best to buy sea cucumbers during winter. This is because sea cucumbers taste sweeter as they lay eggs throughout spring and summer in Japan.
Nutritional Benefits of Namako
Some variety of sea cucumbers have shown to exhibit good healing properties. Thus, leading to the development of many health products revolving around sea cucumber. Besides that, namako is also low in fats and cholesterol, and high in chondroitin sulfate and protein for repair and strengthening of muscles. Furthermore, sea cucumbers also help improve health conditions such as diabetes, anaemia, immune system and peptic ulcer diseases.
Where to find Namako Yasai in Malaysia
It is available in most chains of sushi restaurants in Malaysia such as Sushi Tei. You can also get Namako Yasai from some authentic Japanese establishments that are hidden in some neighbourhoods.
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