Gourd is one of the vegetables that is widespread throughout the world and was so long before the naval expeditions to distant continents in the 15th century. In many cultures, gourds are made into decorative containers or musical instruments typical of the given region. In Japan, medicine was put to pear-shaped gourd vessels, and gourd became a symbol of good health. On one cup for tea ceremony which I keep very dearly, a double gourd is depicted in gold. The use of gourd in gastronomy is also abundant, especially in Asian countries. The Japanese make long ribbons from gourd, which all Japanese housewives have in their kitchens. Dried gourd is considered a handy and also very healthy vegetable and yes, it is sold in the shape of long ribbons. They are beige, sometimes almost white, and it is even possible to tie hair braids with them if someone wants to be super natural. They would definitely hold, because kanpyó, as the gourd strips are called, are very strong before you deep cook them. They are sold dried in Japan and it is a pity that I can not buy them in Europe. I have to import them straight from Japan for Miyabi. The kanpyó that I buy in the Czech Republic from wholesalers of Japanese goods is already kanpyó cooked and flavored, kanpyó, which is used for makizushi, and is mostly from China. Somewhere along the way from cultivation, it has lost its strength and it is no longer a ribbon, but a soft soaked and cut mass. Even so, it is a tasty ingredient and I just wonder why kanpyó is little known and little in demand.
It is good to know that the gourd ribbon could be well used by local chefs of Czech cuisine. For example so called Spanish birds would not have to be tied with cooking thread and removed before serving. A bird fixed with kanpyó would not only hold nicely together, but would be a magnitude more festive. It would be a gift with a ribbon! The kanpyó strips would get the taste of the meat and together they could be very good. The inspiration dwels in the Japanese kombumaki, a dish where you wrap a nice tuna piece in a thick combu algae, tie together with kanpyó ribbon and then cook in dashi, mirin and soy sauce for a long time. Yum. The power in maguro kombumaki is made by umami. No wonder this dish is an indispensable part of the festive New Year’s meal Osechi.
Kanpyó, however, does not have to serve only as a binding bow, it is an ingredient that tastes good in itself. In the temple shoujin ryouri cuisine you will find kanpyó even as tsukemono, means in the most raw form possible. For this dish, it is advisable to choose high-quality kanpyó that is not yellowish and wrinkled, because that would mean that the material is old. The ribbons should not be white bleached either. That happens when they are chemically treated. Such look clean and last long, but they need to be washed very well before being used. The best kanpyó stripes are slightly elastic and have a soft beige color. If you manage to buy a quality kanpyó, then I recommend a recipe from the Sankou-in zen convent of the Rinzai sect, where I took from Abbess Hoshino cooking classes for years. It says: Cut strips from combu the same size as the kanpyó strips reconstituted by water and repeat putting the kanpyó strip on top of combu while lightly spraying rice vinegar on each layer. The first and last lanes must be a combu lane. Then wrap your unit in foil and keep it in the fridge for three days so that the kanpyó absorbs the typical taste of the combu. Then arrange skillfully the kanpyo slices on a plate and use the combu for cookig other dishes. Kanpyó tsukemono is a delicacy expressing the simplicity and elegance typical of Zen Buddhist life.
You can also make small simple bows from kanpyó strips, which you first simmer in dashi and taste by soy sauce. It is nice to use them as decoration for ceremonial kaiseki menu. You can add similarly flavored kanpyó to various small dishes and salads. It goes well with hijiki seaweed cooked with sesame oil.
I look forward to the time when the Covid’s fear lower in Japan and the country reopens its borders for tourists. There will be many of us who will be happy to go to the gastronomic paradise called Japan. When you are there remember the kanpyó, even though it’s a plane and inexpensive material. I recommend looking for a shoujin ryouri restaurant, for example in Kyoto, because they will definitely have kanpyó dish. You may also go in Japan to places where they grow gourds and produce kanpyó ribbons. You don’t have to go far from Tokyo because the main area for kanpyó is Tochigi Prefecture. They even have a gourd in their sign. Kanpyómaru. Maru 丸 – because the shape is round. It is harvested in late July and during August. And how wide is a gourd ribbon? When they cut the bulb around, they make 3 cm wide and 3 mm thick strips. These shrink when dried, but they are still beautiful ribbons. The long strips are as in old times dried in the sun and it will definitely be worth seeing such outdoor drying places in the landscape. Gourds are grown mainly by small farmers. The task is to get acquainted with some gourd master and believe that he has not yet switched to another more economical way of drying than drying in the sun.
But before you can prepare meals from good dried gourd ribbons, my recommendation is to be thankful even for the kanpyó ingeredint that has been already cooked and flavored. In Miyabi with your sushi order you may try our kanpyó roll. You will find it among hosomaki offer. With its brown filling, it looks a bit like the barrel of a rifle. It is interesting to know that the second name for this sushi is teppomaki. Teppo means a cannon. Discover the kanpyó and I guarantee it will be a blow!