Tips & Manners

Eat these 5 traditional vegetables in Osaka!


Writer name : Mayuka Ueno

Osaka is a city that has a food culture so glorious it used to be called "the Emperor's kitchen." The vegetables distinct to Osaka are something that help support that food culture. Here are 5 of those Naniwa (Osaka's old name) vegetables that you should try while you're there.

1. What are Naniwa vegetables?

Osaka's distinct vegetables that have helped support Osaka's food culture for centuries have changed thanks to the evolution of Western-style food becoming part of the Japanese dietary lifestyle. These Naniwa traditional vegetables are vegetables that the administration and farmers worked together to revive so that people could once again enjoy the taste of those foods. The locals approve of this movement and as a result there are books and stores that offer Naniwa traditional vegetables and restaurants that cook with them are increasing.


2. Tanabe Daikon

This white-necked daikon radish was originally a specialty of the Tanabe district in Osaka's Sumiyoshi ward, thus the name "Tanabe daikon". Its distinguishing feature is how short and round the root is compared to most daikon. The flesh is very smooth so even if you boil it won't crumble easily and it cooks sweet and soft. It's something that can't be left out of Japanese cuisine thanks to the abundancy of stews and soups that pulls out the flavors of its ingredients. Also, many Japanese people use grated daikon as a condiment in their dipping sauce for soba or tempura. When you grate Tanabe daikon, it brings out the vegetable's natural saltiness, so it goes perfectly with soy sauce-based Japanese-style broth. Its leaves aren't bitter and they're full of vitamin C, so they can also be used in stir-fries and miso soup.

Photo by: Osaka Prefectural Government Department of Environment, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Agricultural Administration Office

3. Kotsuma Nankin

It's on the small side and lumpy, but Kotsuma Nankin also has a high water content. It's a squash from Osaka's Tamade-cho (formerly Kotsuma-mura) in Nishinari-ku. At first the skin is green, but as it ripens it gets reddish-brown and also increases in sweetness. Harvest is in the summer. It's full of vitamin C, carotene, fiber, and more, so in the past it used to be custom to store them until the winter. In the winter, when brightly colored vegetables were sparse, it seems that the Kotsuma Nankin was a major source of nutrition. Even if it's boiled it retains a high-quality sweetness, and thanks to its water content it's great for thick soups and puddings. It's a vegetable that can also be used in sweets like cookies.

4. Tennouji Kabura

This is Japan's oldest kind of turnip, and the distinguishing characteristic of Tennouji Kabura is that it has 1.5x the sugar of regular turnips. It was originally developed near the area of Tennouji, thus the name. It's so delicious that the haiku master Yosa no Buson composed a poem that says "Tennouji is the heart of specialties and turnips." Its flesh has a fine grain so it doesn't fall apart easily when cooked, and the leaves are packed full of nutrients including vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and other minerals. Also, since the leaves and peel of Tennouji Kabura are delicious too, they aren't discarded but rather pickled with konbu seaweed and salt to create a type of pickle that is now known as one of Osaka's specialties. This thriftiness in using all of an ingredient is one of the best traits of Osaka food culture.

Photo by: Osaka Prefectural Government Department of Environment, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Agricultural Administration Office

5. Suita Kuwai

Kuwai is a kind of tuber that is like a crunchy potato, and this particular kuwai is from Suita-shi in Osaka. It's smaller than most kuwai so it's sometimes called "princess kuwai." Kuwai is a variant of "omodaka." Omodaka and kuwai come from the same Sagittaria plant family, but kuwai has a sprout growing from the seed. Because of that it's been called "the happy vegetable," thanks to a pun on the words for "sprout" and "felicitations." Because of that, it's been used in New Years' traditional osechi meals as a vegetable that brings good luck. Also, since it isn't very astringent, has some sweetness, and a texture similar to chestnuts, it's been recorded as one of the vegetables that was presented to the royal family every spring. Those offerings continued for about 200 years from 1683, so clearly it was a vegetable loved by the royal family. It's standard to boil or fry it still with the sprout, but you can also cook it the way you would potatoes, such as slicing it thinly to make chips or mashing it like potato salad.

Photo by: Osaka Prefectural Government Department of Environment, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Agricultural Administration Office

6. Torikai Nasu

This eggplant comes from Torikai in Settsu-shi. Its distinguishing feature is that it's a round eggplant that's larger at the bottom. The dark purple skin is soft and the flesh is delicate with a characteristic sweetness. It doesn't fall apart when cooked and it tastes good with oil, so its standard preparations are baked and coated with miso or deep-fried. It was vigorously cultivated as a local special product until the early 1990s, but since growing it requires a lot of effort, production dropped sharply during WWII. However, in 1994, local farmers decided to revive the traditional Torikai eggplant and began cultivating it again. Now it's used in elementary school lunches as a Naniwa traditional vegetable, and local pickle shops have collaborated with the farmers to create Torikai Nasu pickled in wine for sale. This shows the success of the re-cultivation.

Photo by: Osaka Prefectural Government Department of Environment, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Agricultural Administration Office

Osaka is full of traditions that have been handed down for centuries, and among them are these high-quality vegetables. Depending on the season the vegetables that are available change, so please check the local greengrocers and restaurants for Naniwa traditional vegetables.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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