Autumn has come, the season of appetite. I have neither likes nor dislikes nor allergies to food. I can eat anything. Especially in autumn, I want to eat a variety of foods, but there is one food that makes even I, feel uneasy. It is wild vegetables from the hills behind my house.
Tempura of the butterbur sprouts, which herald the arrival of spring, is very tasty with a slightly bitter taste. I would be grateful if there were boiled wild vegetables as a refreshing change of pace. It is not that I dislike wild vegetables. However, when I first came face to face with wild vegetables for the first time in my life in Fukuoka, my first assignment as an NHK announcer, I was confronted with a reality that I could not accept.
It was when I was asked to do a live weather report for a national morning news program. I was on my way to the interview location to report the sky conditions along with seasonal tastes.
In between interviews, I was hungry and happened to walk into a soba noodle shop I found by chance. When I asked the owner what he recommended, he replied, “Sansai soba (buckwheat noodles with wild vegetables from the hills behind the restaurant). We picked them this morning in the mountains behind this restaurant.
As a college student until just a few months ago, inexpensive zaru soba and kake-soba from the school cafeteria were what I considered to be buckwheat noodles. Only when I went to a proper soba restaurant with my grandfather and mother, I specially ordered chikara-soba, which was luxurious and contained rice cakes. Sansai sounds a little authoritative, but to be frank, it is not very elegant. I had assumed that they were not something a girl who had lived a glamorous college life in Tokyo would eat.
However, I am already a member of society. My boss told me, “Because you have been assigned to a place you have no connection to, you will go to every corner of the prefecture to cover the story and learn more about people’s lives than anyone else. When you do that, you will finally be able to read the news that gets passed on,” he told me. So when I heard his recommendation (Sansai Soba a buckwheat noodles with wild vegetables, I ordered Sansai Soba, but I ordered it out of the goodness of my heart to grow up as an announcer.
What is the price of wild vegetables from the hills behind our house?
At the time, however, I was spending most of my salary on clothes and owed my mother money because I was behind on my rent. I wanted to somehow keep food costs down. I made the decision without checking the price, but the fact that it was picked in the hills behind our house meant that the cost should be zero. Therefore, I concluded that the price should not be much different from that of soba noodles without ingredients, and proceeded to eat. However, I was surprised at the bill! The price was the same as that of the luxurious chikara soba.
Why? Mochi is made by a machine and managed by a person before it is made into rice cakes, so electricity and labor costs are involved. Therefore, it is natural that the price of mochi itself has a price, which is added to the price of soba noodles. But what about wild vegetables from the hills behind the farm? No electricity, fertilizer, or labor costs are involved. The price should be enough to add the labor cost of cooking to the price of soba noodles. Therefore, it should be cheaper than chikara-soba and a little more expensive than zaru-soba.
However, I am not convinced that the price is so high as to suggest that it took a lot of labor to grow the soba. I would feel more comfortable and willing to pay more if I were to purchase commercially produced wild vegetables and eat wild vegetable Soba with the price added on top of the cost.
I witnessed this commercial practice of putting a high price on something that has a cost of zero yen with a hint of atmosphere in the air in another interview.
In an irrigation canal in that town, stream crabs were naturally reproducing in such large numbers that they were overflowing onto the road. I was excited because I found crabs to be cute, I was excited. However, when I entered a restaurant in between interviews, I saw a menu item called “Fried Sawagani Crab” in the recommendation section. I thought that it was the same, and yet I ordered it to confirm. The deep-fried Sawagani crabs were the same shape as the ones in the irrigation canal. I asked the shopkeeper about it. He told me that he had caught them from the canal in the morning and deep-fried them. Aren’t they delicious? he said with a smile. The price was the same as the farmed ones.
I know that wild vegetables picked in the mountains behind the house and the Sawagani crabs right there are delicious when I eat them. I was in my early 20s when I experienced these things. Twenty years have passed since then, and I still feel bewildered. During that time, I have tried many times to change my way of thinking (to accept the fact that I am paying for the added value of local food). But the more I think about it, the more I am not convinced. How do you feel about this?
Aika Kanda was born in 1980 in Kanagawa Prefecture. After graduating from Gakushuin University with a degree in mathematics, she joined NHK as an announcer in 2003, and left in 2012 to become a freelance announcer. Since then, she has been active mainly in variety shows, and currently makes regular appearances as the main MC of the daytime TV program “Poka Poka” (Fuji Television Network).
From the October 27, 2023 issue of FRIDAY
Text and illustrations by： Aika Kanda