Experiences - Asia

Must-eat in Japan – Tsukemono

What is a Japanese meal without pickles? They are ever more a part of Japanese cuisine and are greatly valued for their unique flavours. Tsukemono is one of them and is commonly used as a palate cleanser, garnish, relish, condiment and digestive.

Imagine having an aromatic Japanese pickles bursting with flavours alongside steaming hot rice. The very thought is so inviting that you want to grab a plate and dig into the dish.

The term ‘ Tsukemono ‘ literally translates to ‘fragrant things ’ and is also a collective term for pickles, which are preserved to offer distinctive flavours that are a result of the fermentation process.

Tsukemono

Image Courtesy: Caroline Phelps used under the Creative Commons Licence

Tsukemono made it’s appearance in Japan back in the days when there was no refrigeration and the only way to preserve food was through pickling. It involves different methods of pickling from salting, brining in vinegar and making cultural molds and fermentation.

Japanese food culture has a fine balance in diet and also takes the sensory and aesthetic aspects into consideration which contains five hues of black, green, red, white and yellow and as a result of fermentation, Tsukemono is considered to be one of the elements in striking the right balance and providing nutrition.

Tsukemono is enjoyed as a perennial side-dish with various mixtures include salt, rice bran, miso, soy sauce, malt, sake lees (sake kasu) and other ingredients, which includes cucumbers, eggplant, turnips and other vegetables in season and in some cases where fish is also used.

The vessel used to make Tsukemono is called ‘Tsukemonoki ‘, which is made either of wood, ceramic or glass. There are different kinds of Japanese Tsukemono pickles that vary in process and fermentation as well as region to household.

Let us look at some of the most common Tsukemono that most of us are likely to encounter while savouring Japanese cuisine.

Umeboshi

Japan Tsukemono

Image Courtesy: Karin used under the Creative Commons Licence

These are Japanese plums that are salted and dried. They have a strong sweet and sour flavour and serve as a digestive, usually accompanied with Japanese bento boxes.

Amazu Shoyga (Gari)

This is one of the most popular sweet pickles among the tourists and is made with thin slices of ginger served with Sushi. It is slightly spicy with a unique taste and is the best palate cleanser.

Nukazuke

This is commonly an assortment of nukazuke pickles that consists cucumber, carrots, eggplant and other veggies served along with shokuji rice meals.

Takuan Must-eat-in-Japan-Tsukemono-2

Image Courtesy: kattebelletje used under the Creative Commons Licence

A crunchy, sweet pickle made of Japanese radish (daikon), sun dried and pickled in a mixture of salt, rice bran and sugar which is served alongside rice or other dishes.

Kyuri Asazuke

These are made from cucumber and are quite simple. They are marinated in salt brine and are often sold by street vendors at festivals, tourist spots and near the temples especially during spring and summer.

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