Suigeitei - whale plate

Suigei-tei in the evening
One of the highlights of a tour is of course the tasting of local foods. In Kochi my friend invited me to "Suigei-tei"(Suigei pavilion), a local food restaurant owned by a famous rice wine producer in Kochi "Suigei-shuzou" (Suigei rice winery). "Suigei" is named after the pseudonym of the last feudal lord in Kochi, Yamanouchi Yodo (1827-1872) and means "drunken whale". Heavy drinking is often described as "drink like a whale" in Japan and I believe this is a good naming for rice wine and especially fits Kochi where whales are often seen and whaling is a long tradition.

It is very natural that guests drink Suigei rice wine in Suigei-tei. Whale dishes are also specialties of Suigeitei. Whale meat is offered in the style of "Sawachi dish".

Sawachi dish is a typical and traditional style of serving in a banquet. Its origin was the offerings to gods. Food offerings were eaten after rituals by their participants as a symbol of joint eating of gods and people. Sawachi literally means large dish and many kinds of food are assorted on a single plate. Similar styles of dishes are available in other provinces of Japan as well, but Sawachi is the name used only in Kochi and acknowledged as the representative culinary style of Kochi.

In contrast to the formal banquet style which requires many dishes in many courses, Sawachi uses a fewer number of large dishes. This makes the participants in the banquet take food from the same dishes and feel themselves closer. At the same time, when Sawachi is prepared at home, it enables housewives to leave kitchen after preparation and to participate in the circle of entertainment. My friend tells me that this latter factor is especially important, because women in Kochi possess a leading role both at home and in the society and it is impossible to exclude them from attending a banquet.

Left: Sawachi plate with various seafood. In the middle freshwater prawns from Shimanto River. On their right several spices of conches. Sliced morey eel is placed below conches. The spices on the left are fried whale meat.

Below: Whale plate - Different parts and different processing produce a variety of delicatessen.
We ordered two Sawachi dishes. One is made with usual - though many of them are unusual in Tokyo - raw fish and other seafood. The other is a whale dish and many kinds of whale meat are served, most of which are quite new for me. Such whale dishes are popular in Kochi where whaling is a tradition for many generations. However, whale meat was a rarity for the most Japanese people. Average Japanese people came to know whale meat through school meals, because whale meat was given to schoolchildren in the 1950s as high nutritious foodstuff. During the post war reconstruction period, food supply was not yet sufficient and the Occupation Army gave a special permission for whaling to provide children with necessary protein.

Above: Mehikari dried and grilled
Right: Dabada- Hiburi in 1.8L bottle.
Below: Noresore
The local cuisine of Kochi is really very unique. I got to know many new foodstuffs such as Mehikari (lizardfish), Noresore (young striped mullets) and Utsubo (morey eel). Morey eel, for example, is known also in Tokyo. However, we know it this very dangerous fish as "gang of sea", but never try to eat ut. However, conger is a delicatessen in Kochi and its meat was very sticky and tasted strangely delicious like a sort of fresh cheese.

As for alcohol, we tasted in addition to Suigei also Dabada-Hiburi, a special spirit distilled from chestnut. Making spirit from chestnut is highly unusual in Japan. We can find a few kinds of chestnut spirits, if we look into every region of Japan. Among them, Dabada-Hiburi, produced in the west-most region of Kochi prefecture, is evaluated as the rarest spirit. It has a special aroma of chestnut and intensive taste.

Although Kochi is a part of Japan, its culinary tradition is surprisingly unique for us. Kochi has surely different natural endowments and in the earlier pediod the ancestors of the present Kochi inhabitants must have tried the best use of their resources. I would like to thank them for the excellent possiblities we have now in Kochi.