Thursday, April 07, 2011

551 Horai Butaman

The following are some links to the drama and comedy of history. First, the drama. About all I can say about these color photos of small towns and rural settings from 1939 to 1943 is: wow. Take a good look at them.

Then there's comedy. I was glad to see "Undergraduate Gems" online. I remember it circulated pre-Internet as a photocopy in the 1980s. It remains one of the funniest things I've ever read. Some of my favorite lines include:

In the 1400's most Englishmen were prependicular.

Europe was full of incredible churches with great art bulging out their doors.

The German Emperor's lower passage was blocked by the French for years.

Russian nobles wore clothes only to humour Peter the Great.

A new time zone of national unification roared over the horizon.

I had a steamed pork bun for lunch today, the kind available in the frozen food section of one of the mom-n-pop Oriental grocery stores not far from my home. The buns are pretty good. Good if you actually steam them, tolerable if you lazily microwave them. But they aren't 551 Horai butaman. No steamed pork bun could be as good as they are.

I didn't realize until some years after leaving Japan that 551 Horai (551 蓬莱) brand steamed pork buns, butaman (豚まん) that is, aren't a Japanese specialty. And by that, I mean they aren't a Japanese interpretation of a Chinese item, the steamed pork bun. They are an Osaka take on the Chinese steamed pork bun. They aren't even available in other parts of Japan.

A large shop in the Namba district, deep in the heart of Osaka, makes the buns. I used to pass the shop often enough, but didn't need to buy my butaman there. 551 Horai kiosks also operate in various other parts of town, including major train stations, which is where I usually bought them. Butaman, each about as big as an adult human fist, came in Chinese red-colored boxes in even numbers: two, four and I think six.

The numeral part of the name, incidentally, is pronounced "go-go-ichi," meaning "five-five-one," not "go-hyaku go-ju ichi," meaning "five hundred fifty-one." I asked more than one Osakan about why that might be, and the answer boiled down to "dunno." A blog called About Food in Japan says that the 551 name was originally taken from part of the shop's phone number.

About Food in Japan has photos. The bun's exterior swirl makes it instantly recognizable as a real-deal 551 butaman, because you can buy other, inferior brands. Those were known, at least to gaijin, as nikuman, a kind of generic designation. Niku = meat; man = bun. By contrast, buta = pork.

Pork indeed on the inside, along with some egg and a smattering of onion, all mildly but deliciously seasoned. I wish I could fully convey the pleasure of bringing home a box of butaman -- two before I married, four afterward -- opening them up, and eating them warm right away with something cool to drink. Gets your senses working overtime.

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At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Tomoko, About Food in Japan site owner said...

Dees, thank you for linking to my blog, About Food in Japan. I did not think that someone in Chicago is mentioned about 551 "Butaman" but it is a moment for me to make sure that the local taste is liked by people in another country.
I am happy to be liked to your blog.


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