Top 5 Must-Try Autumn Flavors in Kyoto During the Bountiful Fall Season
Autumn – the season where nature blooms and everyone’s appetite suddenly blossoms – is when a lot of delicious dishes emerge in Japan. Below are five of the recommended ingredients and dishes that you absolutely must try if you visit Kyoto during the fall.
1. Tamba Matsutake (Sugatayaki, Dobinmushi, etc.)
Say what you will, but the matsutake mushroom is famous as the king of fall flavors in Japan. Of all the matsutake mushrooms found in the country, those that are grown in Tamba – an area located in the northern part of Kyoto – are branded as the best in all of Japan. They are characterized by their rich aroma and elastic, chewy texture.
There are many ways to cook and prepare matsutake mushrooms, but the most recommended ways are sugatayaki (grilled whole) and dobinmushi (steamed in an earthenware pot). Sugatayaki is a cooking method where the mushrooms are grilled over charcoal using shichirin (earthen charcoal brazier) or other means, and then covered in sudachi (a type of Japanese citrus fruit) and other citrus fruits' juices before being eaten. You will be overwhelmed by the simple yet wonderful aroma of this dish. Dobinmushi is a cooking method where matsutake, white fish, mitsuba (Japanese honewort) and other ingredients are placed in an earthen pot together with soup stock and then steamed. The resulting dish is then poured into a choko (sake cup), which lets you savor the ingredients along with the clear soup. You are sure to love its full-bodied taste.
2. Tamba Kuri (Kuri Gohan)
Next on the list is the nationally famous Tamba Kuri (Tamba chestnuts) that are harvested in Tamba. These chestnuts were given as gifts to the Emperor, as well as to the aristocrats who lived in the capital (Kyoto) in the olden times. They were also used as payment to the government in place of the annual rice tax, which was paid by farmers to the feudal lords. Large in size and with glossy shells, Tamba chestnuts are known for not falling apart or losing color even when heated. They are often used in sweets, but putting them in Kuri Gohan (chestnut rice) is also recommended. Made by cooking chestnuts (peeled and rid of their bitter taste) together with rice, salt, sake, soy sauce and other ingredients, you can enjoy the soft texture and mild sweetness of this dish.
3. Shogoin Daikon (Furofuki Daikon)
Though the most common daikon (Japanese radish) in Japan is the one that has a long, elongated shape, the Shogoin Daikon that originates Kyoto has a distinct round shape. The main appeal of this radish is that although it has extremely soft flesh due to its rich water content, it does not fall apart when cooked. It is not pungent or fibrous and it has a little sweetness to it, so it is delicious even when eaten raw. However, it is also perfect when cooked, such as when it is boiled with soup stock. If you want to eat this particular kind of radish, then Furofuki Daikon is the dish that’s recommended for you. Furofuki Daikon is a boiled dish that is eaten by putting a sauce made with white miso, toasted ground sesame seeds, sugar and other ingredients onto the radish. The radish is boiled in soup stock, soy sauce, and mirin (Japanese sweet wine) before the sauce is applied. You will surely love its sticky and pleasant sensation, as well as its simple and wholesome taste.
※Photo shows the typical Furofuki Daikon
4. Mizuna (Hot Pot Dishes)
A leafy vegetable that is said to be native to Kyoto, mizuna (potherb mustard) is known for its crisp, juicy texture and subtle bitterness. It has a mild taste, so it is used in salads, sautéed food and various other dishes. During autumn, though, it is best cooked in a nabe (hot pot). In this kind of dish, the mizuna is boiled in soup stock together with pork, fried tofu and other ingredients, and then dipped in ponzu (sauce made primarily out of soy sauce and citrus juice) or some other sauce before eating. However, it cooks quickly, so be careful to not overcook the mizuna. Some shops pair this dish with daikon oroshi (grated radish). This is a quick and simple dish that is both healthy and filling.
5. Ebi-imo (Imobo)
The last ingredient on the list is the ebi-imo (a type of taro), which has long been cultivated in various areas in Japan, especially in Kyoto. Its shape and striped pattern makes it look similar to a shrimp, which is where the “ebi” in its name comes from. It is characterized by its fine texture and its ability to remain intact even when cooked.
The Imobo, which is a takiawase (food cooked separately but served together) dish, is particularly popular among the dishes that use ebi-imo. This dish, which is made by cooking ebi-imo together with sun-dried codfish in soup stock until it becomes soft, is a traditional dish in Kyoto. The longer you chew, the more you will be able to taste the savory goodness of this dish that comes from the sticky texture of the ebi-imo and its perfect fusion with the delicious codfish.
The dishes featured in this article are dishes that you can try in many dining spots in Kyoto, such as restaurants, teishoku (set meal) diners and izakaya (Japanese bar). The availability of these dishes depends on the harvest for that year, so it would be best to check in advance.
*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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