There are many ways to cook a steaming hot meal. A story published by AFP on Monday explains how hot springs in Japan act as essential fuel for a range of delicious dishes.
The hot spring, or onsen, has given rise to a speciality called jigoku mushi, or hell steaming in Beppu, a small town on Japan’s island of Kyushu. Customers buy meat, fish, and vegetables on-site and cook them in containers that connect directly to the steam emanating from the water.
Hitoshi Tanaka, president of Hyotan Onsen, a site for these hot springs informed AFP, “This method of cooking was already being mentioned in local historical documents 200 years ago." With steam at temperatures of 100-110 degrees Celsius, cooking takes no more than five to ten minutes, “so the food retains its original colour," he added. The sulphur in the steam imparts an umami flavour to the meal, which is a highlight of Japanese cuisine. The food also contains iron, which is important for health, he explained.
Natural steam is used to produce other dishes in Japan too, such as the onsen tamago, which translates to a hot spring egg. The egg is cooked in the heated water at around 65 degrees Celsius to create a relatively firm yolk with a creamy soft white.
Another popular dish is a small round cake called onsen manju, which is sold at approximately 2,900 hot spring locations across the country. These cakes are stuffed with red bean paste and are cooked with the steam that rises from the hot spring water.
Other countries, like Iceland, have also started experimenting with geothermal cooking. The heat emanating from volcanoes is utilized to create different dishes. For example, an Insider article published in 2020 showcases lava bread, which is popular in this region. The bread is made by digging a hole in hot sand and putting the dough in it to cook.
Other foods can also be cooked using this technique while camping. An article published by Outside Magazine in 2016 explains how hot springs can be used to cook meat like steak and elk. Through the gentle heat of the natural steam, the proteins in the meat break down gradually, making it more tender.
This type of cooking might have been common for our ancestors, too. A study conducted in 2020 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found evidence of hot springs in Northern Tanzania that could have been used to boil raw meat to make it more palatable. They might have also done the same to boil raw potatoes and other vegetables to make them easily digestible.
With inputs from AFP.