No Trip to Japan is Complete Without Japanese Pickles!
There are an astonishing variety of tsukemono, or Japanese pickles, that come in various colors, shapes, and flavors. Each meal you eat in Japan will surely be even more delicious with these delightful pickled side dishes! Here's an introduction to everything about tsukemono, including big names in the tsukemono game, where to buy them, and how to make them!
A More Delicious Japan With Tsukemono
Tsukemono are vegetables that have been pickled with ingredients such as salt, vinegar, sake lees, and rice bran. It's one of the many traditional foods that has been consumed in Japan since long ago. By pickling vegetables, not only does it allow you to preserve them for longer periods of time, but you can also delight in a completely different side of these vegetables that you wouldn't be able to enjoy with their fresh counterparts.
And to add to that, they are also an amazing match for the staple food of Japan - rice! It's also an indispensable ingredient in ochazuke, a dish in which tea is poured over rice.
Not only is it a staple preserved food enjoyed in households, but it's also commonly served at restaurants as well as lunch boxes sold in stores. It is by no means a main dish, but it indisputably plays an important role in Japanese meals. Be sure to try many different kinds of tsukemono when you visit Japan!
*There are tsukemono made with other ingredients besides vegetables, but this article will focus on the vegetable variety.
Tsukemono are also called "konomono," or "fragrant things." You'll encounter many different types of tsukemono during your food adventures in Japan.
Look for the Tsukemono for You!
There are a remarkably large variety of tsukemono in Japan. Many of these tsukemono are local specialty products of their respective regions and are made with locally produced vegetables, so they are also regarded as traditional dishes of the region.
Try the different regional tsukemono in all the different areas you visit in Japan! You might even find a special tsukemono that will quickly become your favorite!
Regional Tsukemono in Japan
There are many regional tsukemono, such as the beautifully colored red turnip pickles (akakabu-tsuke) from Hida-Takayama and Yamagata; smoked daikon pickles (iburigakko) from Akita; pickled mustard green (takana-tsuke) made with mustard greens grown around Mt. Aso in Kumamoto; pickled wasabi (wasabi-tsuke) from Shizuoka that is made by pickling wasabi, a vital ingredient in Japanese cuisine, in sake lees; and pickled coleseed greens (nozawana-tsuke), which uses Nagano's local specialty product, a vegetable that grows in cold regions.
In particular, there is a very dynamic tsukemono culture in Kyoto, with tsukemono varieties such as pickled sliced radishes (senmai-zuke), pickled chopped vegetables with red shiso (shiba-zuke), pickled turnip (suguki), and pickled wild mustard greens (mibuna-zuke). Collectively, the tsukemono of Kyoto are called "kyo-tsukemono," and are a very popular Kyoto souvenir for Japanese people.
Tsukemono made in Kyoto, or "kyo-tsukemono." (senmai-zuke, shiba-zuke, etc.)
Popular and Common Tsukemono
As for tsukemono consumed all over Japan, a popular variety is takuan, daikon pickled in brine and fermented rice bran, a method of pickling that is referred to as "naka-zuke." Even those visiting from abroad have probably had this yellow and crunchy pickle sometime before! Shinkomaki, sushi made with takuan, is also a popular dish.
Nara-zuke refers to vegetables such as cucumber melon gourds pickled in sake lees and fermented until they turn an amber brown color. While "Nara" is in its name and it originated in this prefecture, it is popularly eaten throughout Japan.
Other nationally popular tsukemono include the soy sauce flavored fujinzuke and rakkyo-zuke, staple condiments to Japanese curry and rice, and amazu-zuke (also called "gari"), thinly sliced and pickled young ginger that is often eaten with sushi.
Another tsukemono worthy of mention is asa-zuke (also called "ichiya-zuke"), a variety of vegetables lightly pickled in a mixture of salt and other seasonings. It's a great entry point for those who aren't used to eating tsukemono, as it has a taste very similar to salad or Western pickles.
Tsukemono that are particularly well-known throughout the world are the yellow and crunchy takuan and pale pink gari.
Besides homemade varieties that are enjoyed in restaurants or homes, there are many premade tsukemono available for purchase in stores. Almost all of them have a low price point, so it's great for those looking to get a taste of Japanese food on a low budget.
Keep reading to find out where you can buy tsukemono and what each place has to offer. One thing to note is that most tsukemono have to be refrigerated, so the amount of tsukemono that you can take back home with you is fairly limited.
Supermarkets and Convenience Stores
There's a tsukemono section in almost all supermarkets in Japan. They sell a wide variety of tsukemono. While there isn't as much variety in convenience stores, the small packages are really convenient for those who just want a little taste.
Tsukemono Specialist Shops
There are so many tsukemono specialty stores that you can pretty much say with confidence that there's at least one tsukemono shop in marketplaces or shopping streets in Japan. It's not uncommon to see tsukemono specialty shops in the food floors of department stores, too.
At these specialist shops, you can peruse the selection of tsukemono before they are cut and packaged and sample the ones you're interested in trying before buying them. Another great point is that they also sell limited edition seasonal goods and original, unique products that you would only find at specialty stores.
An assortment of colorful tsukemono line the front of this tsukemono specialist shop. At these shops, you can purchase tsukemono by weight!
Make Your Own Tsukemono!
Making the popular takuan at home is no easy feat. This is because the whole process, which includes drying the daikon, takes close to 2 months to finish, and you have to firmly place a stone weight over it and thoroughly pickle it in rice bran and salt.
However, supermarkets sell nukadoko, a ready-made bed of salted rice bran for pickling that acts as the base for nuka-zuke, so it can be made relatively easily just by adding salted vegetables into this mix.
If you're making tsukemono for the first time, it's recommended that you start with asa-zuke, as it only takes a few hours and you don't need any special cooking utensils or pickling containers.
Easy Tsukemono Recipe
●What You Need
Vegetables of your choice, salt (natural salt is preferred), plastic bag, stone weight (can be purchased at 100 yen shops, but a container filled with water is acceptable as well)
●How to Make It
1. Chop the vegetables and put them into a plastic bag. Add roughly 2% of the weight of vegetables in salt and mix well.
2. Place a stone weight or something equally as heavy on top of the bag, and leave it to rest for over an hour or overnight. Once the vegetables are tender, you're done!
●Make it Even More Delicious
When pickling the vegetables, add in thin slices of dashi kombu (seaweed) to achieve the distinct, savory and rich umami flavor of Japanese cooking.
Asa-zuke is made with only plant-based ingredients, so it's perfect for vegetarians. If you make them moderately low in sodium, they make for a healthy dish that allows you to get plenty of vegetables into your diet!
This is kombu. It's a component of dashi, or broth, which is fundamental to Japanese cuisine.
Another Tsukemono Recipe
There are Many Ways to Enjoy Tsukemono
Tsukemono is great since it can be enjoyed in so many ways. Not only is it super tasty with rice, but there are also varieties that are perfect as snacks with alcohol or tea.
You can eat it as salad, stick it in your sandwich, add it into pasta, chop bits of it into a sauce for a meat or fish dish, pair it with cheese... There are so many different ways you can enjoy it!
It's also fun coming up with your own original recipe using tsukemono!
Tsukemono are an essential part in Japanese food culture. Maybe you can start up a conversation with someone in Japan about tsukemono! Have a wonderful trip in Japan, and be sure to try all the various delicious tsukemono out there!
*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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