Spirited Away was the first Japanese anime movie I ever saw…and I was completely hooked afterwards.
It is the story of a girl who moves to a new town with her mother and father. Before they get to their new house, they take a detour and come across a deserted town. The streets are filled with shops and Chihiro’s parents are seduced by the platters of food in the open air markets. They eat and eat, until they can’t stop and turn into pigs! The rest of the story tells how Chihiro tries to rescue her parents – but only once she can prove herself in the spirit world and survive the frenetic bath-house run by the evil Yubaba.Whereas we grow up with gnomes, fairies and wicked stepmothers in the western world, in Japan, children’s stories are full of weird and wonderful creatures, radish spirits, sacred racoons and nodding tree spirits. Spirited Away is full of tiny beautiful details about Japanese culture, Edo houses, futon bedding, the communal hot springs and delicate rice sandwiches.
Food in Spirited Away is both a healer and a curse.
Gluttony turns Chihiro’s parents into pigs, and No-Face the demon cannot seem to get enough to eat to cure his depression. At the same time, food rescues Chihiro, when she is given dumplings from Haku so she can live in the spirit world.
I love how Miyazaki takes such care to capture every appetising detail. Jellies, dumplings, chickens, sushi and sweets. This is definitely a kitchen I would like to hang out in.
Spirited Away Dumplings
I love japanese dumplings so much – and the 6 you get in a restaurant are just not enough. I like to make a mountain of these and keep them in the freezer in bags – then I can have them whenever I want. I’m sure the chilli in them will help to fend off mischievous spirits.
I used ready made gyoza skins from the local Chinese supermarket. But, if you want to make your own you could use this recipe.
100g (4oz) minced pork
75g (3oz) pak choi or spinach
2 tsp finely grated ginger
2 finely chopped green bird chillis
1/2 tsp rice wine
1 tsp of black vinegar
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp chicken stock
Sesame oil and groundnut oil for frying
- Mix all your ingredients together in a bowl, making sure everything is well mixed.
- Get two plates ready, one with a dusting of flour and the other for the finished dumplings.
- put in about 2 tsps of the mixture into the centre of the gyoza skin – and moisten the edges with water.
- Press together, lightly crimping them so they look like a cornish pasty.
- When you have got enough to fill a pan – heat the pan super hot, and put in the oil.
- Gently lay in your little darling dumplings and fry for about 4 minutes. Make sure they are nice and crispy so they hold together when you steam them.
- Pour in enough hot water to reach half way up their middles.
- Pop a lid on and steam gently (don’t do what we did and got the lid stuck and then spent ten minutes trying to free our trapped dumplings). Leave to steam for about 10-12 minutes.
- Pour the water away and dry fry for another minute.
- Put some soy sauce and black vinegar into a small bowl with some more chopped green chillies for dipping in the dumplings.
My favourite type of dumplings, however, are the shōronpō soup dumplings from Din Tai Fung in Shiodome, Tokyo. They are like little santa sacks filled with pork, shrimp and a good dollop of soupyness. There is even a manual that comes with the dish telling you how to eat these little sacks of joy.
Here is my translation of the Japanese: first you put the darling little dumpling on your spoon with some lovely soy sauce. Then sprinkle gently with shards of stalky ginger. Let the dumpling get settled and happy. Then stab it – quickly. You should have created a neat hole into its smooth side. Then, you must mercilessly slurp out its soupy insides. Now destroy it!