Kamado (竈)

A kamado (cooking furnace) is an apparatus for cooking that encloses a fire when heating grain or foodstuffs.

Summary

In ancient times, when cooking, people put a pan or a pot over an open flame without any enclosure. However, as that was inefficient because of heat lost due to thermal radiation, smoke given off, and fire sputtering in the wind, and so on, kamado made from mud, stone or cement were invented.

It uses direct biomass fuel such as trees (firewood) or processed biomass fuel like charcoal as solid fuel. In some areas, coal and the dry feces of livestock can be also utilized.

Due to the development of the kamado, cooks did not have to be exposed to direct thermal radiation of an open flame and they could cook at a higher temperature, which shortened the time for preparing food, making various cooking methods available. It is not an exaggeration to say that the original forms of almost all cooking methods today derive from the kamado.

In addition, the development of the kamado is considered to have contributed to the advance of civilization. It also produced the centralization and specialization of cooking, and people gathered together around the kamado. While previous cooking hearths could not provide food for a large number of people due to the time and effort required, kamado could supply a lot of people with meals by using high temperature and continuous and concentrated cooking, and this caused the centralization of the population caused by this, and can be seen to have promoted civilization.

However, as civilization advanced, and people came to use simple and easy furnaces for cooking, such as small cooking ranges and gas ranges, that used other fuels as heat sources for cooking, kamado gradually completed their role and disappeared. The kamado in Japan nowadays is hardly used except by some people, and even in local farming communities people have let it collect a thick coat of dust.

And yet, because kamado were still used in Japan until a half century ago (around the 1950's), methods of cooking by kamado, such as how to cook rice, and so on, are still, passed down by word of mouth, and some contemporary rice cookers reproduce them with 'tips on how to cook rice better.'

In India, they have a traditional kamado called a tandoor, and you can see how tandoor is used in practice at Indian restaurants in Japan (see the articles tandoori chicken or nan). In Japanese food culture, some high-class restaurants that give special attention to their dishes have specially reproduced this Japanese-style kamado and use it for cooking.

It has various names in different parts of Japan.
Although it is usually called 'hettsui' in the Kansai region, in Kyoto it was also called 'okudo-san.'

Structure

Kamado became widespread because people were able to make it from simple materials, it was durable for long-term use, and repairing it was relatively easy.

The structure of the kamado is simply a single unit built into a wall for enclosing the fire and a holder above it for placing cooking utensils such as pots or pans. Also, a popular type of kamado used inside the house included a chimney to keep the smoke from filling the house, the high-temperature smoke exits outside through this chimney, while the radiant heat warms the bottom of cooking utensils.

It has an opening at the side for adding fuel and for raking out cinders (ash, and others), and used to adjust the fire and to see if it is burning properly. Many kamado had this opening at ground level, and Japanese-style kamado were placed mainly on the bare ground.

With improvements added, some had metal lids for openings to put fuel into the kamado, or a cinder outlet located outside the house. Japanese-style kamado increased in variation with the advancement of society, and they had been used widely for a long time before the portable cooking charcoal stove developed.

Also, in Europe, Western Asia and the Middle East, there were many kamado using phase and heat transition. It does not heat pots and pans directly by fire, but by burning a lot of firewood inside and heating up the stone furnace itself first, then, once the furnace is hot enough, pushing the ashes aside, placing a pot or a pan with ingredients inside it on the hot stones, and cooking the dish with the heat inside the furnace. This is also called 'a wood-fired oven,' which is good for baking bread and pies. Also because it was suitable for cooking large quantities of food (in fact inconvenient when cooking small quantities) it was used especially to provide meals for workers and farmers during the busy season, and because the temperature would not rise above a certain amount, it was sometimes used to keep food warm, leaving the food inside the pot. A wood-fired oven in the scene where a fish pie was being baked in "Kiki's Delivery Service" (produced by Studio Ghibli, Inc.) so people in Japan might be able to imagine what it was like even if they have not seen the real thing. Italian pizza is cooked using this kind of wood-fired oven in the traditional way.

Historical Background

The simplest shape of the fireplace was made of stones stacked up around a fire and is still familiar camping trips and cooking meals in a mess tin, and seems to have already appeared in the Stone Age because traces of it have been found in ancient structural remnants from that period. The more people became permanently settled following the development of a culture based on agriculture (see the articles of Agricultural people or Farming) the larger and more permanent fireplaces became by combining mud and stones, and others, in the process of which the cooking furnace was formed.

Although the shape varies depending on the climate and natural weather of the region, permanent fireplaces for cooking have been in existence all over the world for a long time.

They have been used both in the West and the East for a long time. Fire in kamado was often sanctified. In ancient Rome, there was the goddess of the kamado (Vesta) and there were the Vestal Virgins who kept fire constantly burning in the hearth.

Other

Although the kamado has completed its role in present-day Japan, there are people in some countries such as in Africa or Southeast Asia where have not developed the infrastructure of their society because of conflicts or political disorder, and people who live primitive lives like in ancient times, who cook over open fires outside. But these countries have limited fuel sources such as trees, and when the number of inhabitants in one area increases excessively due to refugees, and so on, secondary environmental devastation has occurred; the neighboring trees are cut down recklessly and die off over a short period of time, among other things.

More efficient cooking tools and methods are being sought in such regions due to the above reason, and it is said that in response to this, there are some campaigns to bring the methods of building Japanese-style kamado to the local people. They seem to have a good reputation for being effective in the preservation of forests, including the use of charcoal. In cases where there are many people often moving, such as refugees, it is said that there is also a movement to promote the use of shichirin (earthen charcoal brazier for cooking).
(see the article of shichirin.)

Advanced Japanese-style Kamado Expanding to the World

In 1994, Kesa KISHIDA, a Japanese food nutritionist living in Kenya and a member of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), built a Japanese-style kamado at the village of Enzaro in Kenya, using the materials available there and improving it in order to meet local needs. It is said that the local people call it 'Enzaro Jiko' (Jiko means cooking furnace in Swahili) and it has a good reputation. She brought the methods for making the kamado after surveying the local kitchens and as part of regional aid, and the local people have been teaching each other how to build it. This kamado is made by making a rough shape with stones, covering it up with mud and shaping it properly, which takes only a few hours to finish, and the amount of firewood consumption dropped to one-fourth of what it was before. Furthermore, people were able to cook three dishes at one time, while the previous hearth using an open fire could provide only one dish at a time, thus reducing housewives' workload as well.

In addition, infants had been at risk of getting sick and dying due to drinking unboiled river water, containing household waste products, but now people were able to prevent diseases because they were able to give children water that had been boiled and then cooled. According to the report in the Sankei Shinbun News Paper in January 2007, 100,000 households included in the same village were using Enzaro Jiko.

According to JICA, besides Enzaro Jiko, staff at other places where technical cooperation projects are being conducted have been introducing Japanese-style kamado, using materials available in the local area. The method of making kamado has been introduced in the Republic of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Tanzania, in Africa, Mexico in Latin America, Bolivia in South America, and so on. In some areas, people use brick as well as spreading mud on a stone frame like in Enzaro Jiko, and there seems to be some examples of retrofitting existing simple fireplaces to use as kamado.
(e.g. Republic of Bolivia)

These activities are said to not only promote local people's health, but also to save time for housewives restricted by their housework, improving local agricultural productivity and with an improving effect on the status of women.