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Japanese Suribachi
suribachi and surikogi: photo by gourmetsleuth.com

Suribachi and Surikogi

The suribachi is a Japanese mortar used with a pestle called a surikogi. In Japanese cooking the suribachi is used to crush sesame seed as well as for various pastes.

Article by: Barbara Bowman


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The Bowl (Suribachi)

The mortar is an earthenware bowl, glazed on the outside. The inside of the bowl has a ridged pattern (kushi-no-me) to facilitate grinding. There are several common interior patterns, the simple circlular pattern shown below, as well as a pattern made up of a series of "commas", and a daisy-wheel design.

Closeup of the interior of a suribachi

The Pestle (Surikogi)

The pestle called "surikogi" is made of wood rather than clay and keeps the pestle from wearing down the ridges in the mortar.  The traditional and less common pestle is made from the Japanese pepper tree (sansho) and the bark is left on the pestle. It is said that this pestle imparts a slight peppery flavor to the food it grinds. I think a case could be made to obtain this version simply for its natural beauty.

Traditional Sansho Surikogi
photo by gourmetsleuth: sansho surikogi with rough bark shaft

History And Past Uses

The Suribachi is originally from Southern China and was introduced to Japan between the eleventh and twelfth century. Prior to this time the common mortar was a stone implement. The tool was first used for preparing medicines, then later used for grinding flour and eventually for food preparation.

The suribachi became an indispensable kitchen tool in the Japanese home. According to Professor Koizumi Kazuko (an authority on Japanese implements and furnishings) the suribachi has played a significant role in history and development of Japanese cuisine.

"The original use of the suribachi may have been to grind miso, and over the years many dishes were developed using the suribachi : goma-yogoshi (vegetables flavored with a sauce of seasoned, ground sesame), goma-miso (miso flavored with ground sesame), dengaku (sweetened miso sauce used to flavor toasted tofu), kinome-ae (dressing made with sansho sprigs), shira-ae (dressing made of tofu mixed with white sesame), tororo-jiru (grated tororo), tsumire (fish paste balls), denbu (shredded seasoned fish flakes) and kinoton (dumplings covered with ground sesame or soybean powder)." Source: (Translation by Nonaka Yuko, forthcoming in a joint English translation of Daidokoro no zukan, by Koizumi Kazuko, original publisher, Heibonsha,1998 )

Smooth, manufactured surikogi (pestle)
surikogi (pestle). this is a typical mass-produced pestle.


How To Use

Place the suribachi on your work top. The bottom of the bowl is unglazed so you may need to protect your worktop by placing a towel beneath the bowl. The actual grinding is a two-handed process. Hold the top of the pestle with one hand and rotate the lower part with the other.

Where To Buy

suribachi and surikogi set  suribachi & surikogi blue design set suribachi and surikogi set
Buy a surbachi online at GourmetSleuth.com.  We sell three different styles.
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Recipes

Uses Today

You'll find that the suribachi is an essential tool for preparation of many common Japanese sauces, dressings, and pastes. Obviously you need not confine it's uses to Japanese cuisine. It would be equally handy for preparing garlic, nuts or other herbs and seasonings for a salsa or a mole.

Trivia

Mt. Suribachi is the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima. It is named because it's bowl shaped caldera which is similar in shape to the suribachi (mortar). It is the location of the famous and tragic battle of World War II.

Credits and Sources


Most importantly, we would like to thank Professor Koizumi Kazuko and translator Lynne E. Riggs for providing most of the information about the Suribachi. Professor Koizumi is a specialist and authority on traditional Japanese implements. Ms. Riggs is a translator and is currently overseeing the English translation of Professor Koizumi's book "Daidokoro no zukan, original publisher, Heibonsha,1998".