Urakami Soboro Bento: food from the time of persecution

During my recent stay in NYC I found a nice clean little Japanese restaurant about a block from the rectory with great food and very low prices.  I don’t eat Japanese very often, but every once in a while.  

Here is a great story from UCAN:

JAPAN – Archbishop’s family recipe becomes café hit

Published Date: April 8, 2010

Nagasaki, Japan (UCAN) — A meat and vegetable dish, which became the staple diet of Christians returning home after persecution in the 19th century is proving a hit at a small café in the Nagasaki Catholic Center.

The new menu item at Santos Street near Urakami Cathedral is based on a recipe handed down from generation to generation in the family of Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki.

Santos Street, run by the archdiocese, reopened in January after renovations and marked the reopening with the introduction of this new specialty based on an old local favorite.

“Urakami Soboro Bento” features finely chopped burdock root, shiitake, bean sprouts, and bamboo shoots stir-fried with thin-sliced pork in a light mixture of sake, sugar and soy sauce.

“Urakami Soboro” is a dish that originated in the area after the last large-scale persecution of Christians in Japan during the 1870’s. Exiled victims returning home were often too poor to afford meat, and mixed scraps of pork with vegetables in this simple meal. “Soboro” is said to mean “finely sliced” in the local dialect.

“For a while now, I thought it would be nice to try offering this as a side-dish with rice,” said Yumiko Fukushima, 55, who turned it into a bento, or Japanese-style boxed meal. “When Archbishop Takami first came here, I asked him what food he liked, and he mentioned Urakami Soboro. So I asked his sister to teach me how to make it.”

Urakami Soboro is a popular dish in the area and is prepared in similar fashion in many homes, but each household has subtle variations that make its own version unique. “I borrowed my recipe from the Takami family,” said Fukushima. “This is authentic local cooking, and I would love to be able to introduce it to tourists.”

Fukishima’s principal business is across the street from the Catholic Center in a sushi restaurant which she runs with her husband. Since January, however, she has been helping at Santos Street during the day.

Reception of the new bento has been superb. Fukushima smiled, “It’s healthy and high in fiber, so it’s especially attractive to women and those getting on in years.”


I would love to try that one!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. deborah-anne says:

    Urakami Soboro Bento sounds yummy! Some of the best food is peasant food.

    Spain, Arroz con Pollo, Pan-steamed rice with chicken
    France, Cassoulet, Smoked-meat bean casserole
    China, Cha Chiang Mein, Lo mein noodles with pork
    Morocco, Couscous, Semolina with meat/veggies
    Czech Republic, Houskove Knedliky, Disc-shaped bread dumplings
    Mexico, Huevos Racheros, Tortillas topped with fried eggs
    Indonesia, Nasi Goreng, Rice with herbs and spices
    Italy, Osso Buco, Braised seasoned veal shank
    India, Roghan Josh, Lamb braised with spices
    Thailand, Tom Yam Kung,Spicy, prawn soup
    Brazil, Vatapa, Simmered fish with shrimp

    I can’t remember what the Greeks eat.

    Turkey, Yalanci Dolma, Rice-stuffed grape leaves

  2. Laura says:

    Deborah, your list of food is so good…

    I love bento. Sounds delicious!

  3. J Kusske says:

    Come to Nagasaki, father! If I could manage to go at the same time, I’d be overjoyed to help show you around. Such a beautiful place, full of wonderful Christian history (and a nice Chinatown too). It’s the sister city of St. Paul as well–a street just down the block from Santos Street is named St. Paul Street. I wish they’d name a street “Nagasaki Street” in St. Paul…

  4. Desertfalcon says:

    Very cool article, Father. Makes me wish I had a good Japanese restaurant where I live.

  5. irishgirl says:

    ‘Burdock root’? You mean the plant that has a prickly top to it and snags your clothes if you walk by it?

    I suppose it doesn’t sound too bad if you eat the root….

    But that list of deborah-anne’s looks good!

    ‘I can’t remember what the Greeks eat’….souvlaki, maybe? There’s a Greek restaurant in my hometown. Used to go there a lot when it was in its original location. Loved the gyro sandwiches and the Thracian chicken dish! And the flat bread-oooo, that was yummy, too!

  6. More on burdock root as a Japanese vegetable:


    “Gobo” sounds tastier than “burdock”. :)

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