The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House
舞妓さんちのまかないさん A series on Netflix about Food & Friendship set in a Maiko house in Kyoto.
Photo Credit: The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House, 2023. Netflix
From acclaimed filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda
Adapted from the manga series “Kiyo in Kyoto”by Aiko Koyama,
Season 1 episode 1
Two 16-year-old inseparable friends Kiyo and Sumire leave their town in their home city of Aomori after seeing maiko, (apprentice geishas or geiko, as it is called in Kyoto) in the street on a school trip.
Leaving behind Kiyo’s supportive grandmother and their baseball player buddy Kenta, the two girls head to Kyoto on a bus warm baked sweet potatoes in hand to chase their dreams of training as maiko.
We join them as they adjust to life in the maiko house. A communal all female Saku House living quarters where this story takes place. They call each other mothers and sisters despite having no blood relations to each other.
Sumire is a natural and embraces life as a trainee, Kiyo however is clumsy and finds she is not suited to life as a trainee maiko.
Ms Sachiko, who is the house makanai when they first arrive sees Kiyo’s enthusiasm and interest in food and takes her under her wing. Makanai means both the cook and the meal served in the boarding house or other place of work.
Ms Sachiko is forced to leave to rest a back injury, Kiyo then finds her passion as she steps in to be the in house’s Makanai. The two girls decide to pursue different passions while living under the same roof. Sumire in the pursuit of being a “one-in-a-million” maiko and Kiyo starts to prepare the meals for all the women who reside there. She seams effortlessly happy and engaged with her work enjoying grocery shopping and deciding what meals to cook that will appeal to everyone from different regions of japan with their own distinct food cultures and various levels of seasoning. What I like the most is the sense of nostalgia in the series with humble, home cooked freshly prepared nourishing food. Kiyo even says “nice to meet you” to her ingredients as she begins each day.
It also relates to something I’ve spoken about in my blog post “Natsukashii & Ofukuro no aji” A taste of home.
Ofukuro no aji which translates “Mothers Taste Meal “. Linked to family relationships these are Japanese home cooked meals that your mother used to make. Eating them later in life can bring back memories and comforts from home. Natsukashii (an adjective) derived from the Japanese verb Natsuku which means to become familiar with. The word is used to express emotion, fondness and gratitude for the past in a kind of nostalgic way.
I think when we are talking about food we can relate to Natsukashii, like sounds and smell can bring back memories so can taste.
You may know I have adapted quite a few recipes from the “Midnight Diner” series and thought this a wonderful opportunity to make not only these humble Japanese home style cooked meals but to make them vegan. (Some are already vegan)
At the beginning of the first episode it starts on snowy Aomori and Kiyos grandmother is making nabekko dumplings in red bean soup a local traditional dish in the southern area of Aomori Prefecture. So what makes this dish different to zenzai ? Well it’s mainly down to the dango the dango balls are pressed in the middle to look like a nabe (pot). They are also made from kneaded non glutinous rice flour.
(Joshinko (上新粉). It is made from milled short grain rice which has been washed, dried, and ground down into flour, whereas mochiko and shiratamako are both made from glutinous rice.
Kiyos grandmother makes the dish as a good luck meal before Kiyo and Sumire leave on their journey, however this meal is often made as an offering to Agricultural Gods during celebrations, such as “Tenorie,” a festival praying for a good harvest after the completion of the rice-planting. It’s a comforting sweet dish perfect on a cold day.
Let’s make nabekko dumplings in red bean soup
You will need :
For red bean soup
200g of azuki
1/4 teaspoon of salt
200g of granulated sugar
200ml of water for cooking
For nabekko dango dumplings:
100g of Joshinko non glutinous rice flour
Around 100ml of just boiled hot water
- Wash the azuki beans and place them in a pot with just enough water to cover, and bring it to a boil. When the water turns red, drain and discard the water. Replace water and repeat this process a second time.
- Place the parboiled beans and the measured 200ml of water over heat. When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45-60 minutes until beans become tender.
Make your nabekko dango
Add Joshinko flour to a bowl and gradually start to add the hot water until everything comes together into a dough a little firmer than and earlobe. Form into a log shape and cut into sections to roll into balls.
When you have rolled them into balls push your thumb in the middle to make your nabe shape.
Continue simmering your azuki beans adding more water if needed when they are tender mix in the salt and sugar and simmer further for five minutes. Then drop in your dango. Let the dango cook adding more water if needed to make a nice soup consistency. The dango May take at least 15 minutes to cook though properly.
Serve in your favourite bowl.
Later, on the bus to Kyoto, Kiyo shares with Sumire the baked sweet potato their close friend Kenta gave them as a snack for the journey, the girls fall into grateful giggles. You can find the recipe for these on my recipe pages (Yaki Imo).
Finally from episode one I decided to make the tomato curry that was kiyos grandmothers recipe. She makes the curry while visiting Ms Sachiko the former Makanai. You see her using a method of removing the skin from tomatoes that I’ve shown before in my poached tomato recipe. Scoring a cross in the skin and dropping the tomatoes into boiling water boil for a few minutes until the skin starts to come away . Drop the tomatoes into ice cold water you will find then the skin is easily removed.
Adding tomato to the curry adds a sweetness to the curry instead of adding something like honey or apple which is common in Japanese style curry.
As the curry normally has some kind of meat as an ingredient you could use something like soy protein as a meat substitute, you could also use seitan or in my case this time I used Maitake mushrooms.
This is how I made Vegan tomato curry inspired by The Makanai.
First skin your tomatoes as explained above. Then cut into quarters.
Then you will need:
x1-2 carrots chopped in to wedges
x1 medium white onion sliced finely
x2 potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
Some maitake mushrooms . ( if using soy protein reconstitute this in water and squeeze out liquid before adding to the curry. You can also use seitan.
One of the most important aspects of making Japanese curry is to sauté the onions until they are caramelized, which can take up to 20 minutes. Most of the curries from Asian countries are prepared by sautéing the onion until translucent only. The onions should be cut into thin slices so that they can caramelise quickly.
When you onions are nice and browned add potatoes meat substitute and carrots then add water to cover and simmer for around 15 minutes.
While they are cooking make your curry roux.
You can use curry roux cubes but I wanted to make this how I thought was more in keeping with how Kiyo might of made. This recipe uses S&B Japanese curry spice powder.
A traditional blend of natural herbs and spices for Japanese curry. This curry powder is fantastic for making Japanese style curry from scratch. Ingredients Turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, orange peel, pepper, chill pepper, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, star anise, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, nutmeg, sage, cardamon.
Heat 60g of butter over low heat in a pan.
Add the equal amount of sifted flour and stir constantly. Let the butter combine with the flour, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until it turns to medium brown. Keep stirring so that the roux will not stick to the pan. Keep the heat low so that the butter does not burn.
Add two heaped teaspoons or one tablespoon of the S&B Japanese curry spice powder and mix well until it forms a thick paste.
Add the paste to your vegetables and stir to thicken adding extra water if needed to get your desired thickness of sauce.
Finally add your tomatoes. I like to add those last so they don’t turn into mush, it’s nice to keep some of the form of the tomatoes.
Cook until the tomatoes are soft and then serve with Japanese rice and vegetables if you like. Serving like this will feed at least x4 people.
More recipes to come in my next The Makanai blog.
If you haven’t already watched it yet The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is available for streaming on Netflix.