Namban dish is a specific dish in which ingredients – seasonal small seafood to vegetables – are deep-fried and pickled in rice vinegar marinade, which is flavored with sugar and shoyu (Japanese soy sauce). In the olden days the method of this preparation was perfect to preserve the prepared food longer at the time when there was no refrigeration system. Namban preparation has survived into today’s kitchen and still entertain us with the height of the season vegetables and seafood.
Namban, by the way, means “southern barbarian”. This word was applied to the Portuguese and Spanish, the first Westerners who came to Japan, during the 16th century. Until this time, the Japanese had traded predominantly with Koreans and Chinese, with whom they shared similar physical characteristics. The word Namban reflects the shock my people felt upon encountering Europeans, who had, by comparison, large noses and eyes, hairy bodies (maybe after long voyage they did not have time to shave), and astonishing height. https://medievalpoc.org/2014/07/23/namban-byobu-detail-japanese-and-portuguese-christians-with-servants/
This is the dish which I prepare frequently during hot summer months with colorful, bounty vegetables found in the market. Even though the vegetables are fried in oil, the vinegar, which is the main ingredient of the marinade, cuts off the oiliness, making the dish tastes refreshing. Rice vinegar contains various amino acids and organic acids. They helps to improve our appetite and promote good digestion. Maybe this is why I love to make Namban vegetables in summer.
To prepare Namban dish the use of quality rice vinegar is necessary. It affects the end flavor of the dish and, of course, our health. So, here is what you look for. At Japanese or Asian food stores look for ‘jun-komezu’. ‘Jun’ means pure. Pure rice vinegar means that the vinegar is produced with 100% rice. The product which simply says ‘komezu’ has some added other grains or alcohol in the production. Jun-komezu is, of course, the rice vinegar if you want to make good tasting sushi rice.
There is a Namban dish recipe – Salmon and Vegetables in a Sweet Vinegar Marinade – in The Japanese Kitchen, page 167.
Or, use the below standard marinade to prepare the dish.
If you want to taste Namban right away, try the small Namban dish at MOCU MOCU, a recently opened Japanese cafe specializing modern vegetable pattie (sinspired by Okonomiyaki) which comes with choice of proteins, Obanyaki sweets and takoyaki. https://www.mocu-mocu.com/ It is on 10th Avenue, between 50 and 51st street, NYC.
1 cup jun-komezu
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons shoyu
1 teaspoon salt
2 akatogarashi or other small dried red chile peppers