I thought I'd show you what we had for dinner last night. Looks like a normal meal doesn't it? A hamburger patty, salad, pumpkin soup and mixed rice with mukago. What is mukago? Even some of my Japanese friends ask me that!
In Japan, one of the favorite past times is to go looking for "wild mountain vegetables". What is a "wild mountain vegetable" you may ask. Well, they can be shoots and fronds of ferns, fresh leaves or sprouts from trees or grasses in the forest. There is also the whole range of mushrooms that can be found too. Of course, most gathering goes on in the spring, but in the autumn there are still edible plants hiding in the forest if you know what you are looking for. I don't know what I'm looking for so I don't make a habit of "wild mountain vegetable" gathering but many years ago someone showed me these little "berries" on the vines in the woods and ever since then I spend one short walk gathering them once a year and serve them at dinner. It is my token acknowledgement of the custom of gathering "wild mountain vegetables". It makes me feel sort of like Laura of Little House on the Prairie eating off the land!
I checked in the dictionary and found that the definition for mukago is "a bulbil". That doesn't tell you a lot does it? I checked "bulbil" and the definition is "a small bulb-like structure, especially in the axil of a leaf, which may fall to form a new plant." Except for the fact that I don't know what an axil is either I think you get the idea. In this case, the mukago is from the vine of a Chinese yam and they just hang there and are very easy to collect. I've seen people in the woods following the vine and then digging up the yam too, but I'm satisfied with the mukago.
Mukago have a potato-like flavor and texture and they are quite tasty. As you can see though, they aren't so appealing to look at. Tetsu sort of frowns at them and his comment is that it looks like I'm feeding him rabbit pellets. True, but I only make him eat them once a year to welcome in the autumn season.
Next time you're in the woods (in Japan at least) check the vines and see if there are any mukago and then go make a pot of rice!