In previous articles I’ve written about my love of seasonal foods in Japan, along with the distinct change in weather, what is eaten from season to season changes considerably compared with many other countries. Autumn is a welcomed season for many, who after the intense humidity of summer are delighted by the cooler temperatures, the dramatic autumnal leaves and the seasonal food that Japan has to offer.
Expressions of the four seasons are an important element of Japanese cuisine, which is heavily influenced by 茶道 (green tea ceremony) this sense of respect for the seasons has been carefully preserved and passed down the generations.
Ingredients that are known for there seasonal flavours are cooked as simply as possible, in order for the natural flavour inherent in the ingredient to be enjoyed. Matsutake mushrooms are an example of an autumnal food that is enjoyed with little or no flavouring, allowing the raw taste of autumn to be enjoyed.
Along with cuisine, the tableware used in traditional restaurants reflects the changing seasons; lacquer ware and ceramics are often decorated with seasonal motifs of; plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, chrysanthemums, autumn leaves and snow. Affluent people are also known to rotate their art seasonally, underscoring the importance of each season in Japanese culture.
Now let’s get back to the food: here are some Autumnal treats that should be cropping up in your local supermarket soon.
Persimmon is my favourite fruit in Japan, they are nutritious, satisfyingly sweet and can be eaten whole. A fun fact: in botany terms they are in fact a berry. I’ll be making a kaki crumble this autumn for sure.
さんま (pacific saury- I’d never heard of it either)
The kanji for さんま is 秋刀魚、the first character 秋 means autumn and the last kanji 魚 means fish, the middle kanji 刀 means knife, illustrating the shape of the fish. Sanma is so revered in Japan it even gets its own festival; Meguro Sanma Festival, which has been taking place every year since 1996. At the festival they give away about 7000 grilled fish for free, although, like with all popular things in Japan queuing is a necessity.
栗ご飯 is a perfect dish to complement the season; it’s easy too. All you need is normal short grain rice, sticky rice, sake, salt, chestnuts and water. If anyone wants the recipe then I’ll be happy to post it in the comments below.
まつたけ (matsutake mushroom)
Considered a delicacy in Japan, the matsutake mushroom boasts prices starting at 20,000 yen for a kilogram. Due to a considerable amount of rain this August you may be able to pick some up for a little less, although that amount will still be astronomical.
Similarly to 栗ご飯 you can mix rice with matsutake to enjoy 松茸ご飯、remember to cook and season the mushrooms lightly in order not to hide their distinct autumnal aroma.
なし (Japanese pear)
Japanese pears or perhaps Asian pears as opposed to 洋梨 (Western pear) are larger, crispier and have a similar but lighter taste. Japanese people usually eat them peeled, whereas I (and I imagine most non Japanese) eat them unpeeled. They go surprisingly well in salads.
さつまいも (sweet potato)
You may be surprised to hear that there is a “Japanese Sweet Potato Diet’ in which you replace one meal a day with a helping of Japanese sweet potato to reduce calories without forgoing nutrition. Sounds tempting? I’m not sure it’s a diet I’d like to try but I’m aware that it’s considered a good carbohydrate as opposed to the ‘evils’ of white pasta, bread and rice.
Sweet potato fries are a personal favourite of mine, add garman masala for a spicy option or for a Japanese alternative try ふりかけ topping seasoned with seaweed and sesame seed.