Monday, June 29, 2015

Kappa: A Little Zip in Your Summer Step via the Cucumber

Kappa from above.
Cucumbers (kyuuri) are just coming into season. Most gardeners and farmers train them along on trellises to make harvesting easy and a wee bit shady. It also saves arms and legs from the sharp-edged leaves that I recall drew painful red lines on me as I hunted for ripe ones in my Michigan gardens. Invariably, I would miss one only to discover something more akin to an oversized zucchini lolling about in the patch later. Decadence in dark green, I always thought as I chucked it to the chickens or into the compost bin, which was essentially the same thing.

Cucumbers are here, as they are elsewhere in the world, a summer delight. They crunch their way into salads, get slathered with spicy oil and munched with beer, dipped in miso, or turned into a quick pickle perfect any time. Refreshing, cool, delicious.

But the one thing I never imagined they would do, they have done. They have gone out on the town and reappeared swimming in a tall clear glass of vodka. Shocking. Shockingly delicious, that is.

I first met the Kappa in Kichijoji at a little standing bar in their Harmonica-cho, a dense weave of narrow lanes, shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes on the north side of the station. I don't remember why we stopped there, but I do know we were waiting to meet some friends. I also remember seeing the tall clear glass emerge from behind the bar. The thin slices of cucumber veritably shimmered as the ice cubes jostled them, tiny bubbles from the sparkling water tickling up their sides. (Yes, I had already had a couple drinks by the time I saw this.)

Perfectly thin, perfectly delicious.
"What is that?" I asked the patron brilliant enough to order it, a stunningly beautiful woman with straight black hair that hung to her waist and just a tinge of her beard visible under her make-up. She explained that this was a Kappa, and offered me a sip. It was sharp and crisp and utterly perfect. She and the bartender laughed when I immediately ordered one. We were all soon friends.

The name, of course, is something of a mystery. Kappa is a mythical water creature that lurks in ponds and rivers, although some legends say they winter in the mountains. (Wouldn't you?) Their appearance is green and rather frog-like, although that varies from region to region. Mischievous in nature, the kappa can cause a bit of trouble now and again. A perfect name for a deceptively strong drink, if you ask me. By the time our friends arrived, the Kappa had done its work on me, and I encouraged (some might say drunkenly bullied) them into buying their own. Regardless, we had a lovely walk home afterwards, and the Kappa has been a favorite ever since.

Four or five thin slices of cucumber or enough to go wall around the glass
Ice, cubes are best
Sparkling water

Wall the glass with the cucumber slices and fill the center with ice. Then mix vodka and sparkling water to taste. If you're like me and something of a lightweight, I'd recommend more sparkling water and a dash of lemon juice. I also think a sprig of mint would be nice, but you'll have to see for yourself.

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