OITA – One of Japan’s most popular hot-spring resorts is helping a city in New Zealand to harness steam from its hot springs to cook food.
Beppu, Oita Prefecture, is renowned for its “jigokumushi” (hell steaming) cuisine. It is sharing that know-how with Rotorua, a sister city in New Zealand that likewise has hot springs.
“It is our first foray overseas and we are proud of it,” said an official in the Beppu Municipal Government. “We hope exchanges between Japan and New Zealand will also flourish.”
Last spring, Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick visited Jigokumushi Kobo Kannawa, a hands-on cooking center in Beppu.
Her city plans to build “Beppu Kitchen,” a wooden building measuring 250 sq. meters, next to an existing foot bath facility in a city park.
In jigokumushi, meat, fish, seafood or vegetables are cooked on a strainer over a steaming oven. The flow of steam can be adjusted, but the cooking temperature is normally around 100 degrees.
Jigokumushi aficionados say the technique is special because the rapid heating of the food helps it maintain its true flavor.
It dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868), when the dishes would be served for clients taking hot-spring baths as a form of therapy.
Today, about 100 steaming ovens remain, mainly in guesthouses and “ryokan” inns in Beppu, the local government says.
The city’s Jigokumushi Kobo Kannawa is a popular tourist destination, visited by nearly 100,000 people every year.
One recent visitor, Kobe resident Chikashi Noguchi, 65, said, “Unlike hot springs themselves, the food doesn’t smell sulfurous; it is easy to eat.”
New Zealand has a traditional steam cooking method of its own using hot stones called “hangi.” This involves digging a pit in the ground for food and covering it with cotton cloth.
The schedule for construction of Beppu Kitchen has yet to be decided, but the Rotorua city government plans to raise cash for the project from local companies and to obtain contributions from Japan by the end of 2015.
Beppu officials have already provided architectural drawings of Jigokumushi Kobo showing the facility’s construction and piping, and will consider sending engineers as well.
When Beppu Mayor Hiroshi Hamada visited Rotorua last October, Chadwick showed him the site for the Beppu Kitchen in the city park.
Chadwick drew parallels between Rotorua and Beppu.
“We could look to Beppu for new ideas to take full advantage of Rotorua’s unique environment,” a Beppu official recalled Chadwick saying. “They are ahead of us in aspect of how they use geothermal (heat),” she was quoted as saying.
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