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Food Tales

Our Introduction to Suribachi and Surikogi, the Japanese Mortar and Pestle

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The night that we were refused to be served at an establishment in Dotonbori, we walked back to the apartment prepared to buy dinner at a convenience store. But we passed by Matsunoya which was still open despite the late hour. The food looked good.

Unlike the snooty food attendants at the blasted Dotonbori place, a nice lady greeted us at the door of Matsunoya and helped us order using the automated machine near the entrance (I’ll post photos of these machines another time) then showed us to a table.

Dinner at Matsunoya

We sat down and when our food was served by the same nice lady, there was a bowl with toasted sesame seeds in it. With her hands and a broad smile, she showed us how to use it.

Oh, boy. If toasted sesame seeds are aromatic and packed with flavor, grinding them doubles the tantalizing smell and taste. Amazing what a few twirls of the wrist can do with the right equipment.

The experience would be repeated a few days later at a restaurant at the Rinku Premium Outlets.

A search at Doguyasuji

On at least three separate occasions, we scoured the Doguyasuji (a.k.a. Kitchen Street) in Osaka for the bowl. We had no idea what it was called so we had to go through the shelves of every shop.

Suribachi, a Japanese mortar

A day before we were scheduled to fly back home, Alex found it. She spotted one as large as a batya (laundry basin) and asked the shopkeeper if they had a smaller one. They didn’t but the nice shopkeeper walked Alex next door where smaller ones meant for home use were sold.

The mortar is suribachi; the wooden pestle is surikogi

Details of the ridged interior of a suribachi, a Japanese mortar

Suribachi, it is called. Glazed outside and unglazed inside, suribachi, a Japanese mortar, is scored inside with spiraling ridges.

Grinding toasted sesame seeds in a suribachi, a Japanese mortar

You don’t pound food in a suribachi — you grind in a circular motion. And you need to use surikogi, a pestle made of wood, so as not to unecessarily wear out the ridges. It is the ridges that makes suribachi so unique. The ridges make it easier to extract oils when grinding nuts and seeds.