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 5
Do you believe in destiny? Many of our choices in life take us on different paths. For me, when I started following a vegan lifestyle over twelve years ago now, I became interested in cooking. This then lead me to start to try and create vegan (plant based) recipes for Japanese food which wouldn’t normally be vegan. This incorporated my love for Japan, animals and food.
Even though Kiyo was told she would never be a maiko she found that rather than it being a set back, it lead her into a new life’s path. She discovers new pleasures in every day life, from shopping for seasonal produce at the markets to deciding what she will make for food for the maiko house.
In episode five which it titled “Choice”, we see lots of characters reflecting on the choices they need to make or have made. A lot of them are over love interests.
At the beginning of the episode we see Kiyo making tempura, all the girls are discussing love interests while they eat. Tsuru asks Kiyo if she has any love interests and for a moment Kiyo shocks everyone with her reply , “You know what? I’m actually in love…. with my frying pan Tetsuko”. Kiyo is also asked how she makes her tempura batter so crispy she explains she keeps the batter in the fridge. Keeping the batter extra cold is indeed key to making the perfect tempura batter.
The perfect tempura vegan batter:
You will need a selection of vegetables for your Tempura you could choose sliced kabocha, sliced Japanese sweet potato, lotus root, shiitake, bamboo shoots, shiso leaves, and maybe asparagus. Prepare your vegetables and put them to one side, keeping potatoes in water to remove the starch, lotus root is also best kept in water once sliced.
I like to slightly steam or microwave root vegetables so they do not take as long to cook, just 1-2 minutes in the microwave. So just before you’re about to cook your tempura drain the sweet potatoes and lotus root pat them dry with kitchen towel and slightly cook them with kabocha squash if using.
Make your batter:
Add to a bowl 1 1/4 cup of plain flour, 1 tablespoon of potato starch, 1/4 teaspoons of salt and 1/8 teaspoons of baking powder and mix.
You will then need to add to your dry ingredients 200ml of ice cold carbonated spring water. Stir in the water to make a lumpy batter but do not over mix. Chill in the fridge while you heat up your oil.
You will need to heat four cups of cooking oil suitable for a high heat like rapeseed, vegetable or sunflower oil, in a deep pan. Heat the oil and test it by putting a chopstick in the oil if you see little bubbles gather around the chop stick it’s ready.
Put a wire rack to one side of the pan and your vegetables and batter to the other side. Remove your batter from the fridge give it one final mix and then start to dip the vegetables into the batter and then drop them into the oil. Do not over crowd your pan just cook a few at a time for 1 minute until golden and crispy and transfer to your wire rack.
Finish with the shiso leaves if you have them. Dip the underside of the leaves in potato startch before dipping one side only in the batter. Drop them for a few seconds in the oil until the batter is crispy then remove.
Now your Tempura is ready to serve. You can serve them just simply with a dipping sauce known as Tsuyu .
You can make this with 1/2 cup of dashi (kombu and a dried shiitake left over night in 1 litre of water then discarded.) Add to 1/2 cup of dashi, 3 tablespoons of tamari and 2 tablespoons of mirin. I also love the concentrated noodle broth by clear spring just use four parts water to one tsuyu which makes it super easy and quick to use.
You can also add your tempura on top of rice this is known as “Tendon” Tempura rice bowl.
I definitely recommend making more tempura than you need and freezing the rest. Just defrost on a wire rack when needed and place in the oven to crisp and warm back up (do not microwave as it will go soggy).
Tempura is also delicious with soba noodles. A popular dish is “Tenzaru” cold soba noodles served in a sieve or basket with tempura and a dipping sauce “Mentsyu” or for short “Tsuyu” served in something called a“Choko cup” with condiments like grated daikon and ginger and chopped green onions, maybe even a little wasabi. Just dip the soba and tempura into the dipping sauce.
Another variation could be Tempura soba in a hot broth. Just use the clear spring concentrate for ease or make tsuyu and add more dashi and tamari to taste. You can also add maybe some steamed greens and chopped green onion. Be sure to add your tempura at the last minute.
This whole episode seamed to be about fried food tempura then croquettes and finally karaage (fried chicken) please see my vegan recipe made from wheat gluten on another recipe page.
Kiyo makes karaage as a surprise for Sumire but it turned out to be a celebration meal as Sumire is told she will be officially a maiko earlier than expected. As they both sit in the kitchen it is then that Sumire asks Kiyo that when she is officially a maiko she would like the tiny sandwiches eaten by maiko that do not ruin their makeup. She explained she had always dreamed of having them. It was decided that Sumire will have a maiko name “ Momohana” taken from sister Momoko and combined with hana. Momo means peach in Japanese and hana means flowers so Sumire’s new name is peach blossom.