Kinpira gobo is a quick and easy side dish and a staple in Japanese homes. Made with burdock root and carrots in a sweet and savoury sauce, this crunchy side is nutritious and delicious! Perfect to serve with Japanese meals and put in bento boxes!
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What is Kinpira Gobo?
Kinpira Gobo is a traditional and well loved Japanese side dish made with finely cut burdock root that has been stir fried and then simmered in a sweet and savoury sauce.
Other hardy root vegetables such as lotus roots and carrots are often added too, we sometimes even add chili to give the dish a spicy kick!
You'll often see this humble dish in Japanese homes because it's quick and easy to make. It's versatile and can be eaten with Japanese style breakfast, teishoku lunch or with dinner. We often put it in bento boxes too!
What is gobo?
Gobo (ごぼう) is a long root vegetable known as "burdock root" in English. It's a biennial plant of the Asteraceae family that is native to temperate zones of Europe and Asia. Interestingly, it is not native to Japan and is considered to have come from China a long long time ago.
Another interesting fact is that even though gobo can be found in various places around the world and is often used for tea and medicine, Japan is the only country that uses it as a vegetable in cooking.
What is kinpira?
Although kinpira gobo is the most popular, any ingredient cooked in this way can be called "kinpira".
Japanese dishes are usually given names that hint at its history or origin. However, the name "kinpira" doesn't give anything away, I couldn't begin to guess where it comes from without researching it.
The word "kinpira" actually comes from an old sub-genre of Japanese puppet theatre called "Kinpira Joruri". These kinds of plays were popular in the early Edo period (1600's) and the genre itself was named after a popular protagonist in one of the plays called Sakata no Kinpira (坂田金平).
Kinpira Sakata was depicted as very strong and brave figure, and the name "Kinpira Gobo" is said to be born from the fact that the crunchy texture of burdock root and the strong spiciness of chili peppers can be compared to the strength of Kinpira no Sakata. It might sound a bit farfetched, but this is by far the most promising answer to the origins of kinpira gobo's name.
Not only this, but burdock is also considered an energizing food with many health benefits. For this reason, it was believed that if you eat kinpira gobo, you can become strong like Kinpira Sakata.
Tips and tricks to make authentic kinpira gobo at home
As Japan is the only country known to use burdock root in everyday cooking, it might be your first time handling this unusual vegetable. There's no need to worry, it's very straight forward.
Here I will share my tips and tricks for preparing burdock root and making kinpira gobo at home!
Washing & removing skin
A bit like potatoes, you will find that gobo in the supermarket is sold unwashed and covered in soil. Of course, you will need to wash it thoroughly before you peel it.
When peeling the burdock, use the back of a knife to lightly scrape off the skin. Burdock root is long and the skin is very thin. If you use a peeler you will waste the actual vegetable itself (there's gonna be almost nothing left!) Be careful not to scrape too much or the flavor will be lost as well.
Remove harshness by soaking in cold water
It doesn't need to be soaked for a long time, but it is recommended to soak gobo for 5 minutes after cutting.
Add a spicy kick
As I mentioned earlier, Kinpira gobo is supposed to be a powerful dish. In fact, the flavour is pretty strong with sweetness (sugar and mirin) and saltiness (soy sauce).
We often add chili for spiciness too, this makes the dish even more powerful!
You can leave the chilli out if you cook it for kids, but for adults, I highly recommend to add one dried chilli pepper.
I honestly think this one chilli adds so much more to the dish!