Christmas Nimono? Heck Yeah!


Ebisu-Nankin No Nimono. Does just the sound of it make you feel all warm and happy? No? Maybe you prefer a little Kansawanian Jibu-ni, fortified with duck breast? Or perhaps you are more of a holiday traditionalist and are perfectly happy with Soba?

Christmas is right around the corner. The worldwide demand for comfort foods is reaching its seasonal zenith. The foods and traditions of Christmas are like the ghosts of Christmas past, they are so familiar, so comforting, yet somehow tinged with just a bit of regret. Which makes me wonder, is there is room for a broader interpretation?

So, personally, I can’t wait to not put up my tree this year. My house is going look so beautiful and festive without any colored lights dripping from the eaves. That egg-nog can just stay on the dairy shelves at Vons. And who needs mistletoe as an excuse to kiss the one you love?

Now lest you think I am some sort of bah-hum-bug-grinchy guy, let me set you straight.

288 Christmas carols live in my iPod all year long, just waiting to be dropped into whatever playlists my sugarplum fairy brain can produce. Chestnut’s roast on my open fire, regularly. I will definitely cook something very Dickens‑y at least once this season.

The other thing about Christmas is (and I am embarrassed to admit this) but gifts are not my favorite part (scandalous). I am not a terrific shopper (yikes). I don’t have a talent for knowing “just the thing“ to get somebody (harumph). I am not even a very good gift receiver, which (I know, I know) sounds really bad. Yet, honestly, I love Christmas. I swear I do!

But this is the year Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States of America. There is a signal coming down from on high and I do not need the North Star to show me the way! If ever there were a time to re-evaluate the way we do things. The time is now. We may need change, but maybe we need to hang onto a little tradition as well. But it’s so hard to define “traditional”.  It’s like a moving target. The changes may be incremental and barely noticeable. But kicking off the Christmas season at Wal-Mart on “Black Friday” cannot be the only new tradition we leave to our grandchildren.

So you see, I gotta do it my way. Which has a lot to do with food, and is a blend of the traditional American with a little “Geez, dude do you even own an atlas” thrown in.  Yes, I do. It’s just I think Christmas (this Christmas especially) is a great time to learn new things, start new traditions, and acknowledge the greater, larger world we live in. I mean if that is not somehow related to the spirit of the season then Santa may as well move to Arizona, cause Rudolph just got run-over by the Fed-Ex truck.

Food is a great place to re-evaluate our traditions. I am of the belief that food makes everyone happy. And I believe that there is a connection between food and our human spirit. And that the comfort food brings to people, especially this time of year, reminds me that what we put into our mouths three times a day, seven days a week says something about us individually and as a culture. So it makes sense (to me) to explore these foods deeper meanings this time of year.

Comfort foods are foods that ground us. They ground us in our youth, perhaps remind us of a time when things really could be made all better with a kiss on the boo-boo. Comfort foods attain their status by the significance our collective cultural experience has bestowed upon them. In this way, they ground us in our cultural identities.

Now comfort foods need not be limited to mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and Ding-Dongs. These are American comfort foods. If you grew up north of the 60th parallel, then nothing would make you feel all safe and cuddly like a nice Oogruk Flipper.

But what the heck does Christmas have to do with Oogruk or even Ebisu-Nankin No Nimono? I admit on the face of it not much. But in the Japanese culture nimono is a comfort food. It’s a simple food to satisfy the taste buds as well as spirit.

Nimono is a cooking style. It is basically, almost anything gently simmered, lovingly watched over, and un-selfishly presented to the important people in your life. Is that not perhaps the most perfect metaphor for the American tradition of family and Christmas that you have ever heard?

But how can a Japanese comfort food (that maybe you have never even eaten) be so ripe with the symbolism of our American Holiday Spirit? That’s easy. Because people are people. We are guided by mutual instincts. We have similar hopes and dreams built into our DNA. Our traditions may have different names, or require different ingredients, but they are all rooted in our humanness. So no matter where we grew up, there are universal qualities that we share and pass along to those who come after us. So, you see, Frosty The Snowman and Ebisu-Nankin No Nimono are pretty much the same thing.

So if this nimono thing is so completely in line with who you are as a person. And if it defines so well what it is you believe in at your deepest core…don’t you think you should at least know what it is? I can help you here. Please let me consider it my Christmas gift to you. I know I will.

Ebisu is the Japanese god of good luck for the workingman, as well as the guardian of the health and welfare of small children. Further proof to me of the cultural power this style of food holds in the Japanese psyche and is indicative of its “of the people” nature.

A Nankin is a Japanese pumpkin, generically referred to as kobocha in Japanese, and is the same as what we, in English, specifically refer to as a Kobacha Squash.

The fact that this squash is called a Nankin indicates to us more information. This term on a menu might suggest that the chef will cook it in the lighter Kansai style, named after a region of south-central Japan where Nankin is the name of a type of squash.

Nimono, as I said, is the quiet, gentle simmering of food in a flavorful broth. The No in No Nimono is a preposition (or do I mean particle???) indicating the process by which the food will be cooked. There you go Ebisu-Nankin No Nimono. The perfect Christmas tradition.

So get to work, take down that tinsel…oh heck it looks so pretty you might as well leave it up. Got any extra for my house? GREG

Ebisu-Nankin No Nimono by cookshow-intl


Greg Henry