The Japanese are fascinated with hazawari, 歯触り, the texture or literally tooth-feel of food. And the Japanese language is full of onomatopoetic descriptions for the texture of food. During nori tastings with Tsunehiro Kawahara of Sanpuku Nori, he described yaki nori as paripari, nama nori as korikori and koumiboshi nori as sakusaku. Paripari translates to crispy, sakusaku to crunchy, and korikori is, well, something else very similar but noticeably different. So many of these words don’t have translations because they describe subtle variations of textures that in English we differentiate with far fewer words.
This has been one of the more formidable aspects of writing about washoku (Japanese cuisine) in English. The challenge is to understand the differences myself and anchor them with experiential associations, then to figure out a way to distinguish them in English.
I attended a gathering last year at Kawahara’s house and brought a basket of Kawashima’s fresh zaru-dofu. Another friend had brought a selection of Spanish olive oils and Kawahara had his koumiboshi nori on hand. He drizzled olive oil over the koumobishi nori and realized for the first time then and there that even soaked in oil, the koumiboshi nori was still sakusaku, crunchy. We spooned the mixture over bowls of fresh tofu and sprinkled them with fine sea salt. It was divine!
Koumiboshi nori is most elegant. Nori thalli are cleaned and dried whole, then toasted just as sheet nori would be. Toasting turns the chlorophyll green and releases the nori’s aromas. The difference between koumiboshi and traditional sheets of nori is that for the latter, nori thalli are minced and formed into sheets. Sheets of yaki nori are more intense in flavor due to a higher concentration of nori. But koumobishi nori, which preserves the thalli undamaged, has a more subtle but complete flavor.
Nori’s trio of flavors, umami, salty and sweet, pairs particularly well with eggs and it’s here that koumiboshi nori’s versatility shines. I’ve enjoyed it generously sprinkled atop fresh pasta with a simple carbonara sauce of eggs, parmesean or pecorino, salt and pepper. It also enhances a poached egg. It would fare well in dressings too.