A Fall's Appetite: 7 Must-try food for autumn in Japan
食欲の秋(Shokuyoku no Aki), or A Fall's Appetite is a term in Japan which describes the abundance in food during the season of harvest. Countless types of food comes into season and onto the dining plates of every corner of Japan during fall, creating a dining experience like no other. While some food items can be found all year round in Japan, it just doesn't get any better than having the freshest, most in-season ingredients at its peak of their harvest period. So what are some of them that you should try out during the coming of fall?
Matsutake mushroom is one of the most prized delicacies of Japan since ancient times. Due to its really specific growth requirements, Matsutake mushrooms can only be found sprouting under pine trees under a certain amount of rainfall that typically comes during the September and October months in Japan. Due to this reason, Matsutake mushrooms are some of the most expensive ingredients in Japan that could be sold for up to $2000/kilogram. And this is not just because of the mushroom's petty attitude towards growth conditions, but Japan's shrinking pine forests has also lead to the scarcity of the Matsutake that can be found growing domestically in Japan. The best way to prepare Matsutake mushrooms are by grilling or steaming it with dashi so that it retains the mushrooms' delicate flavour. Another great way of having Matsutake is to steam them with rice so that the aroma of both rice and fungi are allowed to mingle and create a light yet flavourful bowl of 松茸ご飯(Matsutake gohan).
Pacific saury, or sanma, is one of the most sough-after seafood during the fall season. Due to its annual migration into the northeastern Pacific coast of Japan during the period of the year, sanma is one of the only few species that are exclusively caught in local Japanese waters. The fish are especially rich in fatty acids when in season which provides people who eat them the necessary nutrients to last through the upcoming winter months. The most common way of preparing sanma is simply by grilling it whole with a dash of salt (A cooking method commonly known as shioyaki). This allows people to be able to taste the fish in its truest form; fatty and full of flavour. Grilled sanma are also normally paired with miso soup and a bowl of rice. Some other ways of preparing sanma includes sashimi and even whole fish sushi (Bogata).
Chestnut is also a food that screams autumn in Japan cuisine, especially in sweets and desserts. In fact, the kuri is such a versatile ingredient that it can be served both as a savory or a sweet dish. Consumption of chestnuts can even be traced back to ancient times in Japan with evidence of large-scaled cultivation of these nuts as a main staple diet of the Japanese before being taken over by the introduction of rice. Though no longer taking up the main role in a Japanese diet, chestnuts are still deeply ingrained into Japanese cooking in a variety of ways. It is not uncommon to see streetside vendors slow-roasting chestnuts by the side of the road. This results in a sweet and fluffy little morsel that are often eaten as snacks. Chestnuts can also be used to bake elaborate and fragrant sweets like the traditional French Mont Blanc which constitutes of a sponge cake encased in noodle-like layers of pureed chestnuts and the pasty, fluffy Kuri Manju. Other food that you can find chestnuts in includes yokan, dango, cookies and even simply mixed with rice.
Persimmons are such a common food during fall, you could say that they are the poster girl for fall cuisine in Japan. These orange-coloured tomato-like fruits can be commonly seen strung up and hung out onto the patios of Japanese houses to ripen. These oval-shaped persimmons, called Hachiya, are astringent and bitter until they are fully ripened. Another kind of persimmon is the Fuyukaki which is shaped more like an orange. These can be eaten raw on its own without having to wait for it to be fully ripened. Soft, sweet and jelly-like in texture, the fuyugaki can often be found being made into jams and fillings for sweets and desserts especially during the fall season as exclusive time-limited flavours.
The yakiimo is just old-school comfort food for Japanese bother old and young. Sweet potatoes has always been a classic street food during the colder months of the year. You can often find yakiimo trucks or carts just by the sidewalks and alleyways decked out in a stone oven roasting piping hot sweet potatoes for basically anyone with literally any sort of a budget. Sure you can easily find these fluffy little morsels in convenience stores during this time of year, but ultimately, much of the authenticity of having a classic yakiimo is the experience of buying it off the cart or the truck like most Japanese do 15, 20 years ago, having them on the go on a chilly, autumn evening on their way back home. What's even more amazing is that whether if you're left with 100 yen or 1000 yen in your pockets, there is enough sweet potatoes to go around on these rustic yakiimo trucks/carts. The trick to it is to tell the vendor how much you have and what you can get for them. Most of the time, they will gladly snap half a large one up for you or a number of smaller ones.
Sweet potatoes aren't just the only comfort food of the fall in Japan. While they are typically used to be served roasted in an oven, you can find they the Japanese deep fries a lot of their kabocha; deep-fried, tempura, every way. Similar to regular pumpkins in the west, kabocha is a staple food item during fall, but while pumpkins are used in a variety of ways like cooking and decorations for Halloween, kabocha are used main for cooking. Though deep-frying is the main choice of preparing kabocha, they can also be used in roux and gravy like Japanese curry to balance out the heaviness of the dish.
And of course, no food in you fall bucket list can be without shinmai, the first rice of the year. In fact, Japan is so particular about the categorization of what constitutes as shinmai that they even have a list of standards to what can be labeled as new rice. You can only find shinmai being served between September and December in Japan as they are only exclusively named so during this period of time. The rice are often thought to be softer, more fragrant and much more moist as a result of being harvested only months before. The best way to fully experience the quality of shinmai is to leave it as simple as possible. People often add salt into it and knead them into onigiris known as shiomusubi. Of course, it is also a great way of eating new rice of the fall season by having It with other fall harvests mentioned previously in this article. Adding in kabochas, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, Matsutake mushrooms or grilled sanma further accentuates the feeling of a meal being served during Shokuyoku no Aki.
Now that you have found a bunch of fresh new produce waiting to be eaten during fall in Japan, time to drop your pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks and Halloween choco potatoes from McDonalds'. Time to whet your appetite that fall has to offer.
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