Okawa, aged 56, manufactures a type of steamer that sits atop a pot of boiling water. This type of steamer is traditionally found only in Eastern Asia. It was during the Yayoi period, around the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE, that Korean pottery utensils reached Japan. Although bent or curved wooden utensils were also being used at that time, it was not until the 8th century that food steamers made of thin strips of cypress appeared.
Today, of course, you can find aluminum or stainless steel steamers sold with their pot. While they're very popular, we tend to forget that cypress absorbs the excess moisture, preventing it from dripping onto the food and making it soggy and pasty. In fact, it works so well that Japanese chefs and housewives fond of traditional cooking methods will hear of nothing but these cypress steamers.
It's surprising, when you think of cypress's hardness, to see how flexible and easy to work with it becomes. Besides, it gives off a wonderful fragrance.
It is obvious that he does not use any nails or glue in making the steamers. Five thin strips of cypress are bent, one into the other, then slid into the wooden hoop, called the "size ring," that serves as the base. Finally the five slats of cypress are fixed in place, sewed together with a kind of tacking carried out with a strip of wild cherry bark. A bamboo rack placed on the two cross pieces in the bottom holds the products that are set on top to steam over the boiling liquid.
In collaboration with Nipponia
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