Sushi is a pretty hot topic in America these days. While it’s easier than ever to find a high-quality sushi joint near your home, it’s not necessarily easy to pick up the traditional ingredients you need to make sushi yourself. Kampyo is one of these hard-to-find sushi fillings that’s often talked about in traditional recipes for futomaki sushi.
So can you get kampyo in your area? The answer is probably yes, but you’ll have to order it online. To find out more about kampyo, however, let’s first learn what it is and how you should plan on enjoying this Japanese food.
What Is Kampyo?
Kampyo is a type of dried gourd strips. It’s made from the calabash fruit, which is a type of gourd found all over the world. Kampyo is sold dehydrated and must be soaked in water and seasoned before it’s used in your sushi. Because it’s dried, however, you can easily buy kampyo on the internet and have it shipped to your house with no downsides.
Since kampyo is stored dehydrated, you’ll have to go through a brief re-hydration process before you use it in your cooking. Here’s one quick way to prepare your kampyo for use in your sushi:
2 ounces kampyo, dry
Plenty of salt
1 cup dashi (dashi is the stock used to make miso. You can use water or another flavorful stock instead)
2 tbsp rice wine (mirin)
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1. First, rinse off your kampyo in a colander. Once it’s clean, rub it with salt until it begins to soften, then rinse the salt off.
2. Place the kampyo in a small saucepan and add water to cover. Let it soak for about an hour — no heat required.
3. After the initial soak, you’ll want to quickly boil your kampyo. Put the saucepan over medium heat and bring the water to a boil. Drain all the water and return the saucepan to the stove, still over medium heat.
4. Add the drained kampyo and the other ingredients (dashi, rice wine, sugar, and soy sauce) and stir everything together. Let it simmer for at least 5 minutes or until it reaches the tenderness level you want. All of the liquid should be absorbed by the kampyo.
5. Cut your kampyo into the size you want! If it’s not flavorful enough, consider using more soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, and dashi in your next batch. I find that this is plenty strong for me, however.
Kampyo lasts for about a year while it’s dried. It will darken somewhat over the course of this year, but it’ll still be good to eat. Once you rehydrate it it will last for about a week in the fridge, but you’re probably best off only rehydrating enough for your immediate use. This means that there’s nothing wrong with having kampyo shipped to your house via snail mail. You can usually find small packages online for a couple of dollars.
Buying In Stores
While kampyo isn’t a common American ingredient, it’s found in many specialty Asian markets and some supermarkets. Be sure to ask an employee about sushi ingredients and other Japanese specialty foods. Kampyo is often fresher and cheaper at the Asian market, so try looking there first.
Sushi in Japan is slightly different from sushi in America. In Japan, sushi refers to any dish that’s served alongside special sweetened, vinegared sushi rice. This can be prepared a number of ways. You can get food on top of sushi rice, food rolled up with sushi rice inside seaweed and cut into small segments (like a California roll), and even fried foods with sushi rice inside of them. While kampyo is frequently used in some of these types of sushi, it’s not necessarily used alongside fish or even other ingredients at all.
Kampyo maki is one common presentation of kampyo sushi. It’s a small sushi roll made with three ingredients: kampyo, sushi rice, and the seaweed wrapping of nori. Some chefs will include a mix of prawns and seasonings called oboro as well, but this is the exception, not the rule.
Kampyo maki is traditionally served near the end of a meal with the dual purpose of giving your guests something mild and pleasant to clear their palates and offering them a bit more food to fill them up. It’s deliberately not particularly flavorful. Instead, it’s got a nice blend of textures and enough savory undertones to provide an enjoyable experience.
If you’re looking for a kampyo maki substitute, try simply making cucumber rolls instead. While you’ll miss out on the slightly chewy texture and savory flavor that you get from simmering kampyo in mirin and soy sauce, sushi rolls with regular old cucumber can achieve the same goals as kampyo maki. They’re mild, they offer a nice balance of textures, and they’ll give your guests something to munch on at the end of a dinner.
Futomaki is a style of sushi that involves a thick roll of many ingredients, including vegetables, eggs, and sometimes seafood. Just like American-style sushi rolls, futomaki features fillings wrapped in sushi rice, which is in turn wrapped in nori. Kampyo is often prominently featured in futomaki rolls alongside a variety of convenient regional fillings.
Just like kampyo maki, however, it’s probably not worth going out of your way to pick up kampyo for a futomaki roll. The reason is simple: futomaki is made in Japan with whatever ingredients are on-hand and easy to find.
While this might include things like kampyo, unagi, sakura denbu, and mitsuba, you absolutely do not need to include these things in your own homemade futomaki rolls. Instead, simply use ingredients you enjoy that are easier for you to find. This might mean a different type of fish, different vegetables, and even different seasonings. Experiment with your favorite foods and see what kinds of crazy rolls you can create!
One of the more important ideas behind futomaki is that no ingredient should overpower the others. This means that you should use a careful mix of mild flavors and avoid especially strong foods that may overpower your other ingredients. This is why mild ingredients like tamagoyaki and cucumber are so common in futomaki.
Here are some of the most common ingredients that people use in futomaki rolls (in no particular order):
Most people use between 5 and 10 ingredients in their rolls. Again, experiment and see what you like!
It’s worth noting in passing that California rolls arguably fall under the umbrella of futomaki. They’re sushi rolls made with mild, easy to find ingredients that usually include imitation crab, cucumber, and avocado. The “American” ingredient (avocado) is simply used in place of “Japanese” ingredients like kanpyo or tamagoyaki.
What Is Eho-Maki?
Futomaki is enjoyed year-round by people all over Japan. On one day, however, it’s called by a different name. Eho-maki is the moniker enjoyed by these sushi rolls on February 3rd, which is the day before the beginning of spring. Eho-maki is served uncut and eaten with the roll facing a certain direction in order to bring luck to the person enjoying it.
As I mentioned above, while the flavor and texture of kampyo are certainly distinct and enjoyable, they’re not necessarily something that you should go well out of your way to replicate.
Instead, simply use a mild vegetable that’s available locally. If you’re deadset on closely following a specific recipe, try simmering your local vegetable in soy sauce, mirin, and sugar for a few minutes before using it. I’ve used this trick with carrots on a number of occasions and found it to be quite enjoyable.
The easiest things to substitute for kampyo are long, thin vegetables that you can eat raw, like carrots and cucumbers. If a roll calls for kampyo, simply put slices of raw carrot or cucumber in instead. Again, the roll will certainly taste different, but it will still taste good. You’re simply substituting a fresh, crispy vegetable instead of a prepared chewy one.
In a busy, multiple-ingredient preparation like futomaki, you might not miss the taste of kampyo much. In a single ingredient roll, however, you’ll have a slightly harder time getting away with a lazy substitution. If you’re not comfortable substituting out the kampyo in kampyo maki, try simply finding a recipe for a different single ingredient roll.
The most important thing is to create a dish that you’re happy eating. Instead of worrying about finding an accurate substitute, think about what foods you like that go well with sushi rice. You can probably use these inside your rolls instead of kampyo with very few issues.
If you’re familiar with the process of making sushi you can probably figure out how to make futomaki all by yourself. If you’ve never made a sushi roll, however, things are a bit more complicated. Here’s a quick rundown of the complete process and all of the ingredients you’ll need.
2/3 cup white rice, uncooked
3 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 sheets nori (seaweed)
fillings (to taste, but possibly including)
1 letter, rolled up
1/2 cucumber, cut into thin strips
1/2 lb imitation crab
1 package kampyo, prepared as per above instructions
1 carrot cut into thin strips
any of the ingredients from the above list that strike your fancy
bamboo sushi mat (or a towel covered in plastic wrap)
1. Bring 1 and 1/3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the rice and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, then remove from heat. Mix the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a separate bowl and stir into the rice.
2. Briefly warm your nori in a preheated oven for a couple minutes. I suggest using an oven at about 300 F for about two minutes.
3. Place a single sheet of nori on your mat (or on top of a towel with some plastic wrap on top of it). With wet hands, gently spread out a layer of sushi rice on top of the nori. Place your fillings in a line in the center of the rice. You have rice and nori for four rolls, so budget your fillings accordingly. Carefully roll your creation up using your mat (or towel). Use gentle pressure to complete the roll and give your futomaki the desired shape.
4. Slice your roll into pieces with a sharp, wet knife.
A Tasty Vegetable For Sushi
While the kampyo gourd isn’t particularly flavorful on its own, it’s soaked in mirin, soy sauce, and sugar to give it a distinctive taste that pairs well with its chewy texture. Kampyo is a popular ingredient in many types of sushi rolls, including both kampyo maki, which are rolls with kampyo and pretty much nothing else, and futomaki, which are rolls that are usually made with whatever ingredients are handy in a given person’s pantry.
Kampyo is quite tasty and makes for a distinctive roll filler, but it’s not an ingredient that you need to spend lots of time hunting down. Instead, feel free to use a more locally available ingredient that you enjoy eating. If you want the real thing, however, consider ordering it online. Kampyo can keep for up to a year without any issues and can be found online for a few dollars a package.
Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.