Let’s eat Tsukemono! Recommended recipes are here
Tsukemono (Japanese pickles) is food that is indispensable for the Japanese diet. For the Japanese, it is so appetite whetting, that as long as there is tsukemono, rice can be eaten endlessly. In a Japanese-style course meal, along with rice, tuskemono is always present at the end. Since it is aromatic, it is also called “ko no mono (fragrant thing),” or “ko ko (ko=fragrance).”
Surprisingly, tsukemono can be seen, not only with rice, but in other situations in the Japanese diet. Here, we have summarized tsukemono, an indispensable and very familiar food item that has blended into the everyday life of Japan’s food culture.
What is tsukemono? Why are they so important in Japan?
It is said that tsukemono was originally created as preserved food. Tsukemono has been loved by the people since old times, and recently, it is once again beginning to gain a good reputation not only as tasty food, but also as health food for reasons such as being nutritious with minerals and vitamins, and also allowing us to easily eat more vegetables than when they are fresh because pickled vegetables lose a moderate amount of water. A recent trend is tsukemono that have less salt, and can be eaten like salad. Japan’s tsukemono have numerous variations, such as different ingredients (vegetables, fruits, meat, fish), auxiliary ingredients (salt, soy sauce, miso, sake lees, bran, etc.), and duration of storage time (asa-zuke, touza-zuke, hozon-zuke).
These are the most well-known tsukemono!
There are tsukemono that use Japan’s various special local products as ingredient, and they are rich in variety. Some of them are named using the name of the location. Let us show you the ones that are especially famous.
It is ume (Japanese apricot) pickled in salt and then dried. There are crunchy types, soft types, low sodium types, those pickled in liquid seasoning or honey, and more.
They are dried daikon (white radish) pickled in rice-bran paste, salt, etc. They are thinly cut and put into lunch boxes or inside rice balls, and also finely sliced and put into vinegary rice rolled in dried laver. It is said that takuan was originally created by a Buddhist priest named “Takuan” who served in a temple in Hyogo Prefecture. Using the same dried daikon, there are other forms of tsukemono such as “tsubo-zuke,” “iburigakko,” and “Harihari-zuke.”
Tsubo-zuke are dried daikon that are pound with a pestle, then dried again, rubbed with salt, and put into a pot, and rested for a period of time. Many are produced in the southern part of Kyushu. Iburigakko are smoked by hanging them above a hearth, then pickled in rice-bran paste. In Akita Prefecture dialect, tsukemono are called “gakko,” so this is where the name came from. Harihari-zuke are made by soaking dried daikon in liquid seasoning such as soy sauce and mirin (sweet sake).
Although they are available throughout the year nowadays, it used to be a representative winter tsukemono in old times. They are made by drying Chinese cabbage, and then pickling them in salt. Since you can enjoy the difference in texture at the tip of the leaf and root, and how the taste changes as time passes among other things, it is a very popular kind of tsukemono. Some people like to add kelp, persimmon peel, citrus, etc. to the hakusai-zuke.
Today, many of them are made together with cucumber or Japanese wild ginger, but originally, they were a local dish of Ohara, Kyoto, and were made by pickling eggplants in red perilla and salt, and lactic fermented. Sometimes, they are classified as different from “nama (fresh) shiba-zuke.”
They are tsukemono made by thinly slicing “Shogoin Kabu (turnip)” and pickled in vinegar along with kelp and red pepper. It is said that they got the name from the fact that when thinly sliced, there will be over a thousand pieces (sen mai), or the fact that the Shogoin Kabu are cut so thin that there will be a thousand pieces.
This is made by pickling rakkyo (Japanese leek), which comes into season from May to July, in sweet vinegar, salt, etc. Rakkyo are bitter when fresh, but by heating them, they become sweet tasting.
They are indispensable when eating curry on rice. There are seven kinds of ingredients in fukujin-zuke, which are daikon, eggplant, sword bean, lotus root, cucumber, perilla, shiitake mushrooms and/or white sesame, etc. It is said that since there are ingredients in this tsukemono, the name originates from “Shichifuku-jin (Seven Lucky Gods).” Many of the fukujin-zuke we see today are red colored, but before they became the standard relish for curry, they were not red. But recently, there are more fukujin-zuke that are not artificially colored in red.
Fukujin-zuke goes great with Japanese curry on rice.
Beni-shoga (red pickled ginger) is used in many kinds of dishes as relish. Yakisoba is without saying, but gyu-don (bowl of rice topped with beef), tonkotsu ramen, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki are also always served with beni-shoga.
The red color makes the yakisoba look even more delicious
Gari is young ginger pickled in sweet vinegar, and is served along with sushi. It is great as refreshment when eating sushi, and also good for snacks when drinking alcoholic beverages. The name “gari” is said to have come from the fact the sound of chewing ginger is “gari gari (crunch crunch).”
It was originally Nozawana (Brassica compestris) of Nozawa-onsen Village, Nagano Prefecture, which was pickled in salt. They are made during late fall, which is the best season for Nozawana, and locally, it is said that “the best time to pickle them is after there is frost once.” There are two types of Nozawana-zuke — the asa-zuke type, which can be eaten two to three days after pickling, and the furu-zuke type, becomes an amber color when lactic fermented.
It is sugukina, which is a variant of turnip, that is lactic fermented. Along with shiba-zuke and senmai-zuke, it is called one of “Three of Kyoto’s most famous tsukemono.” The sugukina is rarely used in common recipes, so the image of sugukina is strongly equal to tsukemono.
It is the leaves, stem, and root of the Japanese horseradish chopped up and pickled in sake lees. It is used to pickle sliced fish, and are eaten along with boiled fish-paste.
It is green chili pickled in miso. It has tsukemono with a hot spiciness, and is served with Sendai’s famous local food, beef tongue.
It is white muskmelon, cucumber, watermelon, etc. that are pickled in salt, and then pickled in sake lees.
It is a local cuisine of Hokkaido. Dried shredded squid is pickled in soy sauce, mirin, etc. along with herring roe and kelp.
How do you make tsukemono? Here are some recipes
Tsukemono is essential in the Japanese diet. How are they made? Let us show you some easy ways of making takuan, gari, kyuri-zuke, umeboshi, and shiba-zuke.
Takuan is made from daikon, but they are not used fresh. “Dried daikon” is pickled in rice bran. A layer of the paste of rice bran mixed with salt and sugar covers the dried daikon that is neatly spread out in the shape of the inside of a tsukemono barrel. The layer of daikon and the layer of rice bran paste alternate to the top of the barrel, and finally, the daikon leaves are spread out, and rocks are placed on top as weight. After about 10 days, water comes up, and you will be able to eat it in about two to three weeks. If you would like, you can change colors and taste, and make variations. In order to make the takuan a richer taste, you can add kelp, dried citrus, persimmon peel, or shaved bonito shavings. For a yellow color, you can use turmeric, gardenia, or safflower.
You will be using young ginger that is sold during May to June. Slice them as thinly as possible, without chopping off the pink part, then briefly boil them. After thoroughly ringing out the moisture, pickle them in sweet vinegar (kelp soup stock, vinegar, sugar, and salt) that you have made by boiling and then cooled. At home, you can easily make it in a plastic bag if you do not have a large container. If you leave the pink part, you can get a nice natural pink colored gari. You will be able to eat it in two to three hours of pickling.
Kyuri-zuke (pickled cucumber) is eaten very often at home since the cucumber can be made into various tsukemono such as nuka-zuke (pickled in rice bran), shio-zuke (pickled in salt), shoyu-zuke (pickled in soy sauce), and different seasonings (such as salt kelp and stock granules). They are also sold at street vendors in festivals, so it can be said that it is the most popular kind of tsukemono. When making the asa-zuke (lightly salted) of cucumber, put everything, such as your favorite seasoning, red pepper, and sansho into a plastic bag or some kind of container, make it air tight, and leave it inside the refrigerator for about half a day to make the pickle.
Umeboshi are pickled in salt. Wash the ume (Japanese apricot), then put them inside a container, and cover it with salt, then put more ume, then salt, and repeat the process. Put rocks on top for weight. Gradually, natural liquid will appear on top (ume vinegar), and the ume will be swimming in the liquid. This ume vinegar has recently been garnering attention as “super food,” and is being used as seasoning. After you take out the ume from the container, on a sunny day, lay them out on a bamboo basket and dry them. After drying them for four days, do not return them into the ume vinegar, but into a jar that can be air tight, and store it in a cool place.
The ume to be used should be the fully ripened yellow ones, not the green ones. You can only buy the yellow ume during the short period between mid-June to early July. If you can only get the green ume, you will need to after-ripen them until they are yellow, and then pickle them.
Further, there is the “drying ume during doyo (midsummer),” every year between July 21 and August 7, which is doyo, and is when there are consecutive dry hot days. This is said to be the best time to dry the ume which takes a few days.
Inside a container, spread out a plastic bag, then cover it with salt, then spread out thinly cut eggplants on top of the layer of salt, then spread out red perilla, and repeat the process. The last step should be spreading out of the red perilla, then release air from the top of the container, and put rocks on top. After letting it sit for about two weeks in room temperature, and transfer the contents into a storage container and put it into the refrigerator. If you make it during the summer hot season, in about five to six days, there will be lactic fermentation in a short period of time. Then, you will be able to keep in the refrigerator for about a year.
Eat tsukemono this way! How to eat tsukemono
Tsukemono is essential when eating steamed rice. When there is a bit of tsukemono on the dining table or lunch box, that alone allows you to have a good appetite. Tsukemono is served with dishes, and there are many classic combinations of food and tsukemono such as curry and fukujin-zuke and gyudon/yakisoba and beni-shoga. In ramen shops, there is takuan with rice. Along with pork bone broth ramen, some people eat beni-shoga or takana no karashi-zuke (pickled leaf mustard).
Since tsukemono has a nice salty flavor, recently, a bar that serves tsukemono as the main snack to go with alcohol has started business. Japanese food can easily be arranged, making what you eat enjoyable in many ways. There are some great ways to eat them that are well-known but only to the few, spread by word of mouth from snacks eaten in Japanese-style bars, for example.
●Chop them up and mix with gyoza (dumplings), fried rice, or pasta
●Chop them up and mix into tartar sauce or dressing
●Use them as filling of sandwiches
●Use them as materials for marinating
●Chop them up, sprinkle them on fish and steam
●Saute or steam them with fish or meat
●Make takuan, etc. into tempura or fries
●Have them with green tea
Tsukemono can be arranged into an array of different kinds of dishes like the above. There are other tsukemono dishes that actually have names. We hope you will use the above as reference when you buy too many tsukemono, or you feel like changing the taste of tsukemono.
Beni-shoga and karashi-takana-zuke are toppings of this Hakata ramen
It is a well-known dish of Hida district, Gifu Prefecture, but it isn’t what you would imagine from the name —a combination of tsukemono and steak. Actually, hakusai-zuke is cut into morsels, fried with soy sauce, and is cooked with lightly beaten egg. It is cooked and served on a steak plate. It is a well-known dish in local Japanese-style bars, etc.
It’s a good idea to arrange takuan in a Caprese-like way as you see in the photo below, but if you cut the ingredients into small morsels and put them on top of steamed rice, you get “Mozza-takuan don (Mozzarella cheese and takuan on rice).” It will go well with horse radish and soy sauce. Takuan also goes well with tuna, so you will find “toro taku maki” in sushi shops, where they are popular. At home, you can easily make “toro taku don (tuna and takuan on rice).” Also, tsukemono goes very well with cream cheese.
●goshiki natto (five-colored natto)
You either love it or hate it, but those who love natto not only eat it by itself, but they also enjoy arranged natto dishes. One of those dishes is this gorgeous natto in many colors. You can combine the five colors in however you like, but if you add takuan in it, the sweetness and texture can make the dish even more rich in taste.
They are rice balls wrapped in Takana tsukemono. Originally, they were so large, people would look with wide eyes (me wo miharu), and that is how it got its name. Mehari-zushi is known to be the local food in the Kumano region that spreads over Wakayama Prefecture and Mie Prefecture, and Yoshino region of Nara Prefecture. If you want to make some at home, you may want to use large leafed local tsukemono such as Nozawna-zuke to wrap around your rice balls.
Have some tsukemono here! JOURNEY of Japan introduces you to tsukemono specialty shops
Tsukemono is served along with steamed rice in restaurants. But there are some places where you can have tsukemono not as a side dish, but as the main dish.
A long-established Kyoto shop, known for its “Yuzu-koboshi”
Since its establishment in 1879, they have always been particular about using stone weight and the amount of salt, which is the old way, in order to preserve their taste of tsukemono. 30 years ago, their fourth president of the company developed “Yuzu-koboshi,” a creative tsukemono, and they opened a new shop in Fukagawa, Tokyo. You can taste their carefully made tsukemono at their Kyoto main shop, Fukagawa No.1,
shop, and Daimaru Tokyo shop.
At the Kyoto main shop, you can eat at their “ochazuke seki (seat you can have cooked rice in hot tea)” in the back room. Their course meal of bubuzuke (ochazuke) was created after one of the customers from afar said “I’d like to have this tsukemono with ochazuke.” As you enjoy the view of the unique small garden of Kyomachiya, you can have their tsukemono in all their dishes, from the “temari-zushi-like” appetizer to the last ochazuke.
Their Fukagawa No.1 shop is located on the approach of Fukagawa Fudoson Temple. They started business here because they liked the temple festival held here three times a month. Since the Fukagawa is near Tsukiji, they make fish pickled in sake lees, using an original blend of sake lees of Nara-zuke. At this restaurant, aside from being able to have a meal, you can also buy some items (single items only). Further, right nearby is their No.2 shop, where you can only buy items, they have various set items as well. The Tokyo Daimaru main shop is convenient since you can go directly from Tokyo Station, and they are open until dinner time. You can also buy some items to take home (single items only).
The otsukemono course meal you can eat at their Kyoto main shop is 2,160 yen. Their course meal of otsukemono plus salmon pickled in sake lees is 2,700 yen.
The Kyoto main shop has a relaxed atmosphere. This is their seat you can have ochazuke in the back room.
The structure of the Kyoto main shop has a historical atmosphere
Kyo no bubu-zuke and Ogon-zuke at their Fukagawa No.1 shop (with salmon pickled in sake lees) 1,690 yen
Shake no Kasu-zuke and steamed rice at Daimaru Tokyo store 1,575 yen
Kyoto Main Shop
●576, Botan Boko-cho, Gotsuji Agaru, Senbon-dori, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
●9:30-17:30 (ochazuke seats: 11:00- L.O.15:00)
●Closed end of year and New Year’s holiday (ochazuke seats not available between Dec. 1 and Jan. 6)
●It is better to book ochazuke seats. Stay for about 50 minutes
●Take the city bus from JR Kyoto Station or Hankyu Densha Omiya Station, get off at Senbon Imadegawa bus stop and walk for 3 minutes
Fukagawa No.1 Shop
●1-14-3, Tomioka, Koto-ku, Tokyo
●5-minute walk from Monzennakacho Station of Tokyo Metro Tozai Line
Daimaru Tokyo Shop
●12th fl., Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
●11:00-23:00 (L.O. 22:00)
●Irregular holidays (same as Daimaru Department store)
●Straight from Yaesu entrance of JR Tokyo Station
Their series of health conscious Labre lactic acid bacteria is also very much talked about
“Kyo tsukemono Nishiri”
The vegetables they use for their tsukemono are grown at contracted farms and farms under their direct management, mainly in the Kyoto area. Their items can be bought at department stores, etc. all over Japan, but you can also taste their tsukemono at “Ajiwai dokoro” in six of their shops under their direct management. Their meals are tsukemono arranged in beautiful and fun ways. They serve “Kyo tsukemono sushi tenshin,” which is so beautiful, you may be hesitant to touch it, and “Kenko utsukushi gozen,” which has tsukemono that uses the “Labre lactic acid bacteria” found in “suguki-zuke,” a traditional Kyoto fermented tsukemono. Not only are their great tasting, but they are health, and you will find many hints on how to eat tsukemono at home.
“Kenko usukushi gozen,” 1,944 yen (tax included). 20 meals are sold on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Limited to Tokyo Coredo Muromachi Shop and Gion Shop. Dessert is apple yogurt with “Labre lactic acid bacteria,” a healthy tsukemono bacteria.
Kyo tsukemono sushi tenshin 1,404 yen (tax included). Limited to Tokyo Coredo Muromachi Shop and Gion Shop. It included seven seasonal tsukemono sushi, senmai-zuke, salmon, nama yuba in shiro miso soup, and more
The Tokyo Coredo Muromachi Shop has counter and table seats
The surroundings of Tokyo Coredo Muromachi Shop have an Edo atmosphere
One is 20 grams, containing enough lactic acid bacteria needed for a day. “Nishiri lactic acid bacteria Labre” series’ portion pack has tsukemono of various ingredients, a small amount each, allowing you to try many kinds of tsukemono. It is also popular among tourists from abroad.
“Kyo tsukemono Nishiri” *the “Ajiwai dokoro” eateries are in the following shops
Tokyo Coredo Muromachi Shop
●1st fl., Coredo Muromachi 1, 2-2-1, Muromachi, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Lunchtime: 11:00-15:00 (L.O. 14:00)
Caf?: 15:00-17:00 (L.O.16:30)
Dinnertime: 17:00-21:00 (L.O. 20:00）
●No fixed holidays
●Direct from Mitsukoshimae Station of Tokyo Metro Ginza Line/Hanzomon Line
●578, Minami-gawa, Gion-machi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi
●10:30-20:00（21:00）*business hours change depending on season
●No fixed holidays
●3-minute walk from Gionshijo Station of Keihan Dentetsu
Arashiyama Shoryuen Shop
●1st fl., Arashiyama Shoryuen, 40-8, Saga Tenryu-ji Susukino Baba-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
●No fixed holidays
●In front of Arashiyama Station of Keifuku Dentetsu
Arde Shin-Osaka Shop
●2nd fl., JR Shin-Osaka Station, 5-16-1, Nishi Nakajima, Yodogawa-ku, Osaka-shi
●10:30-21:30 (L.O. 21:00）
●No fixed holidays
●Straight from JR Shin -Osaka Station
Summary of tsukemono
Japan’s tsukemono are discreet, yet, it is something you cannot go without when having a meal. They come in a rich variety, such as vegetables, meat, fish, and even the skin of watermelons. Tsukemono from each area of Japan has a different characteristic, and in souvenir shops, you will almost certainly see them sold. We hope you have understood that they are almighty food, and not only good eating as they are, but you can also have them as side dishes when drinking, or use them as an ingredient of some arranged dishes. How about trying some by choosing your favorite ingredient?
*The above information was last updated September 3, 2018. For further details, please contact the facilities directly.
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