Japan is a mountainous country, with approximately 70% of the land covered in mountains. Naturally, there are a lot of dishes made with ingredients from the mountains! Here are some dishes using ingredients from the mountains that you should try when you come to Japan.
1. Sansai Ryori (Sansai Soba, Sansai Tempura)
In Japan, edible wild plants from the mountains and fields are called "sansai," and food using sansai is called "sansai ryori." Sansai tempura and sansai soba topped with pre-prepared, boiled sansai are particularly popular. Unlike vegetables that have been improved through breeding by human intervention over the years, most sansai are extremely bitter and cannot be eaten as they are, but when prepared carefully, their unique flavors actually become great accents for food. There is a wide variety, more than 300, including udo (Japanese spikenard), taranome (Japanese angelica tree sprouts), kogomi (ostrich ferm) zenmai (Asian royal fern), and gyoja ninniku (victory onion). They can be enjoyed primarily from spring to fall. They are said to have health benefits, so give them a try.
2. Takenoko Bamboo Shoot Dishes (Takenoko Gohan, Takenoko No Tosani)
A very seasonal spring vegetable is takenoko (bamboo shoots). Soft takenoko shoots that peek out of the ground in early spring are used for a variety of dishes. Their slightly crunchy texture and unique sweetness is pleasing. Takenoko gohan, an aromatic dish of takenoko cooked with rice, and takenoko no tosani, a dish in which takenoko is simmered with bonito flakes and soy sauce are spring standards.
3. Tororo Gohan
This is a dish that is made by grating yamanoimo (also called jinenjo or yamaimo) or nagaimo yams, which are usually picked in the mountains and is often used as a rice topping. For flavor, it is eaten with soy sauce or a dashi-based sauce. It has a light flavor and is recommended when you do not have an appetite. It is sometimes served with maguro tuna at seafood restaurants, and as a side dish at restaurants that specialize in beef tongue.
4. Kuri Gohan
This is a dish made with "kuri" (chestnuts), an ingredient that is representative of fall flavors. Shelled kuri are cooked with rice to enjoy the soft and flaky texture of the chestnuts and the combination of their slight sweetness and the umami of rice. It is flavored with a little salt or soy sauce, and can be eaten with black sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It is often made at home, but in the autumn, it is sometimes sold as bento lunches and offered in restaurants serving Japanese cuisine.
5. Matsutake Gohan
Like kuri gohan, this is also representative of fall flavors. In this dish, matsutake, an aromatic luxury mushroom that has been a specialty for the Japanese for more than 1200 years, is cooked with rice. The dish is distinguished by a crunchy texture and deep aroma unique to matsutake.
6. Kinoko Nabe
Kinoko (mushrooms) are a major type of mountain vegetable. There are many different types of kinoko, such as shitake, shimeji, enoki, eringi, and oyster mushroom, and this pot dish is recommended if you want to have them all together. A large pot of dashi-based soup is flavored with seasoning such as soy sauce and heated up with lots of kinoko mushrooms and negi scallion, other vegetables and meats, such as chicken, pork, or sliced fish and enjoyed at leisure. There are no standard recipes, or rules about what ingredients other than kinoko mushrooms to put in, and the flavoring varies. It is offered at Japanese restaurants and restaurants specializing in nabe hot pots.
This is a key egg dish in Japanese cuisine. It is often served as a part of multi-course meals such as kaiseki ryori, and is usually eaten cold in the summer and warm in the winter. A variety of ingredients, such as mitsuba herb, dried shiitake mushrooms, gingko nuts, yurine (lily root), kamaboko (a processed fish product), and chicken are put in a cylindrical ceramic dish with a lightly-flavored dashi soup (made by simmering kombu seaweed and katsuobushi bonito flakes) mixed with egg and steamed in a steamer. The result is steamed dashi soup and eggs with an abundance of bounty from the mountains. The combination of the slippery texture and the umami of the dashi soup is sure to make anyone who has a bite feel happy. It is a dish popular among all, regardless of age or gender.
When you visit Japan, please use this article to try a variety of gourmet foods made with ingredients from the mountains.
*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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