This one of the first chapters of the book Street Food. Photos are from our event on 3rd May. Hurray! the book is beginning to emerge!

Steam, people, bowl

Dishes that are part of a ritual have a special resonance that we can slip into when we make it ourselves. The Japanese dish Nanakusa-gayu or Seven herb porridge is made on the 7th January as a new year dish to bring in good health and prosperity for the coming year and also as a soothing broth after the new year festivities.

Nanakusa-gayu is a type of congee, which is a type of rice porridge common to many Asian and Asian-influenced countries. It is a rice soup with additions of ginger, spring onion, chicken and herbs all common.  In other Asian cultures, it is also called kanji (Tamil/Malayalam/Tulu), juk (Cantonese, Korean), cháo (Vietnamese), deythuk (Tibetan), chok (Thai), kayu (Japanese), lúgaw (Filipino), “Bubur” (Malay) or jaou (Bengali), zhou (粥) in Mandarin and even canja in Portuguese. All these words mean gruel or broth.

Our seven herbs from right; dock leaf, chickweed, shepherd’s purse, ladies bedstraw, salad burnet, dandelion leaf, clover leaf

The wonderful thing about Nanakusa-gayu is that most of the traditional herbs – Japanese water dropwort, shepherd’s purse, cudweed, chickweed, nipplewort, turnip greens and radish greens –  are available in the UK, although we have to substitute the water dropwort. The Japanese water dropwort (oenanthe javanica) isn’t toxic but our wild growing hemlock water dropwort (oenanthe crocata) is lethal. If you wanted to substitute with a plant of the same family, then try cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). However, it’s very easy to confuse cow parsley with hemlock water dropwort so observe an easily confused plant for at least a year before you attempt to use it. And if you do use it, always do so paying close attention, with your full intention on picking safely. Don’t ever get blasé about your task. Play this game safely!

With Invisible Food, we prefer to use what’s abundant and easily and effortlessly available and there’s definitely something of this spirit about the original dish, in which herbs are often substituted by what’s available at a dark and wintery time of year. This dish was made with shepherd’s purse, chickweed, ladies bedstraw, dandelion, salad burnet, clover leaves, and to honour the use of the greens of a vegetable, dock leaf.

Toasted shepherd’s purse seeds taste a bit like seaweed flakes!


Seven herb porridge Nanakusa-gayu (七草粥)


1 cup Japanese rice

6 cups water


the 7 herbs

Wash the rice.

Add water and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes until the rice is cooked.

Add the herbs shortly before the rice is cooked.

Take the shepherd’s purse seeds off the stem and lightly toast.

Sprinkle a few shepherd’s purse seeds on each serving.

More photos from the event