In October 2010, in a small unassuming restaurant in Kyoto, I tasted a dish which has haunted my heart ever since (so much so that we named our blog after it). A small hand formed brown kyo-ware bowl, lined with a single shiso leaf, a spoonful of sweet cooking liquid and three cubes of pork belly, braised for hours until the layers of meat, gelatinous skin and fat had reached a meltingly soft texture unlike anything I’d eaten before or since. After some research, we discovered that this beautifully yielding showcase of pork belly at its best was known as Nagasaki pork, or Buta no Kakuni. Kakuni probably started off as a Chinese dish called Dongpo pork, and in its migration to Japan the flavours evolved to suit the local tastes of Kyushu while keeping the same cooking techniques used for centuries prior.
We’ve spent years trying to match the flavour of the kakuni we first encountered in Kyoto, and have finally got it just right. Although we haven’t been able to find a source of shiso leaves here in the UK, we’ve accompanied our kakuni with some young flowering leeks and a dab of tobanjan to give a spicy, fresh counterpoint to balance out the rich pork.