On paper, nagaimo sounds like a miracle food. Nagaimo is a type of yam with hardly any calories, while simultaneously lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It's also full of potassium and fiber and ideal for the diet of a diabetic. And that list doesn't even include its most popular benefit.
It's been said that during the Edo period, men added nagaimo to their bath water to increase their sexual virility. It was Edo's version of Viagra. Their logic lied in the fact that the slimy element in the yams enabled the efficient break down and subsequent absorption of protein. This allowed men to get the "most" energy out of the proteins they ate.
Sounds like a bunch of crazy "eastern" hoo-haw to me... I eat yamaimo because of its unique texture and ability to add another dimension to certain foods.
Adding grated nagaimo and raw egg is one way to pump up a bowl of rice. You may remember this picture from one of my posts three years ago. Tororo is the sticky slimy substance that results from grating nagaimo. Honestly, the nagaimo doesn't taste like much. It is slightly nutty bringing out the flavor of each rice grain. The real attraction is in its slimy texture.
Mugi Tororo Don at Mangetsu in Hatagaya, Tokyo
The nagaimo once mixed with the egg
Here's a shot of a guy grating the nagaimo, for a fresh soba feast in Nagano last year.
Soba, you ask? Yes! Nagaimo is a classic accompaniment to zarusoba (cold soba). The slimy slurp effect is so satisfying.
Another example of pumping up a food with nagaimo is adding tororo to okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake). Nagaimo seems to add more heft to the okonomiyaki batter, giving it a little bit more saveur. This photo is from the recent Umamimart archives.
Photo Johnny Lopes
According to Vanesa, nagaimo also encourages silly times.
Photo Johnny Lopes
In the world of yams, nagaimo is the exception to the rule. Not because it's the natural Viagra of the east, but because it is the only known yam that can be eaten raw.
One of my favorite ways is to eat nagaimo raw is to julienne it and drizzle it with some soy sauce and add a dollop of wasabi on top. The texture is somewhat like an Asian pear with lots of slimy coating.
With some soy sauce and wasabi, I am transported to a valley village in Japan with the sound of a running creek whispering in my ear. In the distance, I can see a woman working in a rice paddy and hear the meditative whistle of the tofu man rattling his cart on the cobble-stoned road approaching.
That whistle turns into the ear piercing whistle my OXO tea kettle screaming in my Berkeley apartment. BACK to reality.
With raw foods and foam being all the rage for a while in fancy cooking, I am surprised nagaimo hasn't caught on. But then again, maybe the "east" wants to keep it that way so they can have a steady supply of yamaimo-spiked bathwater.
Line up men, get your nagaimo.