Ark of taste
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The toma (Corydalis ambigua) or ezotengosaku – which in the native language means “leaf” – is one of the typical plants of the Asian flora, it grows in low bushes and prefers slightly humid areas. On the island of Hokkaido, it can be found abundantly in the plains, while on Honshu, the main island of Japanese, it only grows in the highlands.

In Honshu it is customary to eat the stems, leaves and flowers as boiled vegetables. However, the plant also has an edible bulb-tuber, which is used only in Ainu food culture. The tubers have a classic elongated shape and weigh about 10 grams. It has a consistency that is similar to a potato and its colour that varies between black, brown and yellow shades while the taste of it is is decidedly bitter.

In other cultures, and thanks to recent research, this plant is known because the root contains a remarkable variety of alkaloids, that have been studied as potential methods for increasing pain tolerance.

The harvest of the tubers of the toma takes place in the periods which are the least cold, this makes it possible to dry them. The tubers are peeled and dried in the sun by the women of the community, tying them to a thread as if to create a necklace. This conservation technique allows the product to be used for long periods of time before the next harvest. When they are consumed, the dried tuber must be immersed in water for about two days and then boiled in oil. In some communities it is customary to prepare a rice cake with the toma which is reduced to a pulp after being soaked.

The toma root is commonly used as a food in various Ainu communities, which have developed some techniques to remove the bitter taste, one of which even involves boiling it in water with a handful of earth.

Dried tomas are also used as medicines to relieve pain, headaches and stomach pains, however, when consumed in excessive quantities they can cause abdominal pain.

Due to the urban development of the areas where the Ainu communities live and therefore deforestation, the plant is almost impossible to find in the more densely populated areas such as Sapporo. Among the Ainu communities of Hokkaido, it is therefore used less and less in cooking. Furthermore, the number of Ainu people has decreased significantly, and their food culture is facing a complex transition of traditional knowledge from community elders to younger generations.

With the spread of westernized diets, Ainu food is rarely seen outside of ceremonies.
The Slow Food Community Ainu Women for the safeguard of Ainu Food Culture is working to pass on traditional foods to the next generations based on the concept of "circulation while being grateful for the blessings of nature" passed down from their ancestors. They also create new creative dishes that utilize Ainu ingredients and food culture, and pass them on to as many people as possible. In this way, Ainu women are preserving nature and traditional foods.

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Production area:Hokkaido, Southern Chishima and Sakhalin

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Indigenous community:Ainu Community
Nominated by:Ryoko Tahara, Kayo Tsukiyama, Comunità Slow Food delle donne Ainu per la salvaguardia della cultura gastronomica Ainu