The winter in Japan is truly a magical experience. While it’s chilly and snowing outside, inside, it’s kotatsu (a low table with a heater underneath) and hot bath season, and the perfect time to try out some winter delicacies. There’s nothing like sitting down with a book and some fresh oranges or a bowl of steaming hot oden (Japanese fishcake stew).
Japan has a handful of incredible winter food specialties– read on to learn about them and choose your favorite to indulge in.
1. Christmas cake
What may be the perfect winter treat of all, the Japanese Christmas Cake is an absolute work of art. Made from fluffy layers of a light vanilla sponge cake, this cake is filled with lightly sweetened whipped cream and strawberries.
Why it’s eaten at Christmas is something of a mystery. It was originally marketed as a Christmas cake due to the colors, but otherwise has little connection to Western Christmas celebrations.
You can even get Christmas cakes in different sizes, shapes and flavors. The key to Christmas cake is that it’s at least a little dressed up in a winter motif. Get yours for the holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.
They can be ordered from grocery stores, convenience stores, and bakeries. But act fast—after Christmas, they are impossible to find.
2. Mikan (Mandarin orange)
If you’re looking for a little more fruit and a little less cake, grab yourself a few mikan (a type of Mandarin orange). Small, easy to peel and with the perfect balance of sweet and tangy, this little fruit is the Asian answer to the traditional Christmas orange in Western countries.
There is nothing better than a little citrus to brighten a cold winter’s day, so look for these beauties in the grocery store throughout December and January to satisfy your sweet tooth.
3. Toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles)
Eaten on New Year’s Eve, this is a lighter dish to eat while reflecting on the year behind you and planning for the year ahead. The name translates to year-crossing noodles, and it’s a dish many people enjoy on this particular evening.
Like most people’s hopes for the year ahead, toshikoshi soba is made with ingredients that evoke simplicity, healthfulness, and satisfaction. The soup base is maxed from a nice, light dashi broth. The noodles are traditionally made with buckwheat. The garnish is typically a scattering of chopped scallions. Three simple components create the perfect hot soup for a cold winter’s night as you usher in the next year.
4. Oden (fishcake stew)
Oden, or, as I like to think of it, the most divisive winter food amongst foreigners is a kind of fish cake stew. People either love it or can’t stand it, but almost everyone knows it. It’s both a common home cooked and a popular street food. If you’re looking for it, oden can be most commonly found in convenience stores in the colder winter months.
Oden is a type of hot pot where several ingredients like eggs, radish and rice cake are stewed in a light broth, usually made of soy-sauce flavored dashi.
If you purchase this for yourself, you will usually get a piece of each item in the stew, a little broth, and perhaps a squeeze of mustard for seasoning. The dish is light, warm and filling. Best of all, it’ll also warm your hands up if you’re picking some up from the convenience store.
5. Snow crab
Snow crab is the crustacean of the season. People travel from all over the country to taste the best the ocean has to offer, and Japan has several cities that specialize in fishing this crab to meet the demand. The meat has a delicate, almost sweet flavor with innards rich in savory umami. You can find this ingredient prepared in many different ways—boiled, steamed, eaten in hot pots, or eaten raw.
Which ingredient or dish will you try this holiday season? Let us know in the comments below!