Discover the tantalizing flavours that Japanese autumn has in store.
With the onset of autumn and a drop in temperature and humidity comes harvest time, bringing a whole host of seasonal delights for you to taste. Enjoy the rich and abundant colours, textures, flavours and aromas of foods available to you, and experience shokuyoku no aki (autumnal appetites) for yourself! Here are some ideas…
Sweet potato (satsumaimo). Native to the Americas, in Japan sweet potatoes usually have a purplish-red skin and pale-coloured flesh, unlike the orange-brown of the American variety. In the past, sweet potato has enabled the Japanese people to keep starvation at bay as an alternative source of nourishment to rice. Their crisp skins and smooth, creamy insides make satsumaimo popular as a warm, filling snack. This versatile vegetable is a tasty addition to soups, stews and rice, and its sweetness is exploited in desserts and snacks. For instance, suīto poteto is made by mixing pureed sweet potato, butter and milk with cinnamon or vanilla, and baking until golden. Must-try: roasted straight from a street vendor, or boiled and eaten sliced.
Chestnuts (kuri). Japan has its own variety of chestnut tree, castanea crenata, but its chestnuts resemble those you’d find elsewhere. Boiled and peeled, they can be stirred into rice to form kurigohan, but are delicious simply eaten by themselves. In autumn and winter, whole or pureed chestnuts feature in Japanese traditional sweets such as manju, and in Western-style desserts like monburan, adapted from the traditional French Mont Blanc and piled high with piped chestnut cream. Must-try: kuri no amani (boiled with sugar).
Pacific saury (sanma). The kanji for this slim, silver fish mean ‘autumn knife fish’. Just under a foot in length, sanma are found in the North Pacific Ocean. Now an autumn favourite, historically sanma was considered a cheap, ordinary fish often eaten by families as payday approached. Must-try: sanma no shioyaki is unquestionably the best way to taste this fish. Grilled whole until crispy, with a dash of salt, it needs nothing more, though a bit of daikon (white radish), ginger, soy sauce or pickles doesn’t go amiss. Pick it apart until there’s nothing left but bones!
Mushrooms (matsutake). Growing on the forest floor among the roots of trees, matsutake has a strong aroma reputed to stimulate the appetite. Japanese people, as well as squirrels, rabbits and deer, view matsutake as a delicacy. However, a pine tree parasite has caused matsutake to rise in price in recent decades and out of necessity the Japanese demand has been met by importing mushrooms from China, Korea, North America and northern Europe. Must-try: Two traditional ways of eating matsutake include dobin mushi (matsutake steamed in a clay teapot) matsutake gohan (rice and matsutake mixed together). Alternatively, they’re delicious simply grilled.
By Life in Kansai