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Taste Japan | Salt-making
The folks of Wajima are a tough lot, quietly industrious, and outwardly big-hearted, and a visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without knowing its quintessential craft and flavour. Wajima has a long history of salt farming using the most traditional method of harvesting salt in the world. Agehama literally means ‘risen beach’, while Enden means ‘salt field’. There were previously many salt fields by the beach, but like many old practices and cultures in Japan, they have come to a reluctant close in recent years. Welcome to the Agehama Enden Salt Pan in Suzu City, 30 minutes from Wajima Asaichi.
This traditional method is labour-intensive, though the concept behind it is fairly straightforward. At 4 am, craftsmen draw up the sea water and spread it onto the salt pans, over the sand. After about eight hours in the sun, they will gather the sand with the salt crystals, add filtered water called kansui which has been simmered for 24 hours, to further concentrate it. Sea water has a 3.5% concentration of salt, and the additional filtration will help to bring the concentration up to 15%. The colour of the filtered water may differ from batch to batch due to the different mineral content, but the skilled craftsmen here are trained to retain the mild taste of the minerals while harshness is removed.
We were told that the first salt production started centuries back in 1596, and the salt was used as an annual tribute to the feudal lords as taxes. Once out of use because of monopolisation by the Japanese government, traditional salts are now back in production with the liberalisation of laws in 2002. The Suzu Endenmura Roadside Station Salt Making Experience is the only one available in Wajima.
My back-breaking experience of drawing and scattering sea water, gathering sand and the works left me in aches for a few days. Good flavours are cultivated carefully, and they never come easy. Wajima’s almost-mythic salt is a result of skill, tenacity and sacrifice. And I know now to always remember the spectacular natural blessing and the incredibly hard work that goes behind harvesting this flavour.
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