Traditional Japanese cuisine, or “washoku,” is recognized as a UNESCO´s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Food is taken seriously in Japan and is associated with happiness, wonderful traditions and the appreciation of nature which is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources.
Vegetables and fruits, including food are consumed based on the concept of seasonality “SHYUN”, which is considered essential in the daily intake of food. That is why Japanese food ingredients are carefully chosen, all based on seasonality and nutritional balance.
Each season is deeply rooted in the lifestyle of Japanese people, their activities, traditions, and foods. Seasonal motifs are even incorporated into Japanese arts and crafts. Fresh ingredients reflect the changing seasons and add delight and vivid colors to people´s daily life. Seasonal dishes are meant to be enjoyed with all your five senses. Smelling their delicious aroma and tasting their lovely flavor is obvious for visitors. But sight, touch and the sense of hearing are also significant in the Japanese cuisine. The artful arrangement of food on appropriate and beautiful tableware to please the eye is on Par with flavor. Touch is paramount as well, both for the texture of the food itself and the tableware. Freshly cut bamboo chopsticks feel cool to the touch, while smooth lacquer ware feels warm. A hand-made porcelain rice bowl is pricier than a factory-made one, the enjoyment of touch adds to your culinary experience. Hearing will factor in as well; a quiet atmosphere is appreciated to properly enjoy the delight, give due respect to the chef, and feel joy for such a wonderful meal.
The origin of this emphasis on seasonality can be traced back to the roots of the nature-loving Shinto religion, and to Japan’s agrarian past, which includes seasonal celebrations such as rice planting and harvest festivals. Many of these seasonal celebrations continue to this day, forming a large part of Japan’s culture. Consideration and respect for the season is part of the Japanese DNA. This specific attention to the seasons even has its own term: kisetsukan. There is another word – with no equivalent in English – which describes the perfect moment when specific seasonal food has its very best flavor: shun. Serious chefs take great pride in the celebration of shun, and it is central to the culinary world. Fortunately, eating seasonally and locally – from farm to table – is a trend growing both in American and Europe as well.
Fall is Japan´s “appetite season”
One of the best seasons for hearty eating is fall, sometimes called “食欲の秋”, which literally means “Fall Appetite.” Japanese people believe that their appetite increases because of the bountiful amount of delicious food that´s available during harvest season. There is a plethora of delights and ingredients typically associated with fall in Japan.
According to a survey, rice is the food that the Japanese associate most with fall. The first harvest of new rice is highly coveted in Japan. The rice boasts a moist taste and can only be bought between September to December. A delicious way to sample the rice is by adding a sprinkle of chestnuts (kuri) or matsutake mushrooms to complement it. Chestnuts can also be enjoyed with a dash of soy sauce and wine. For the sweet tooth, chestnuts are often used for cakes and confectionery.
What truffles are to Italians, Matsutake Mushrooms are to Japanese. These juicy mushrooms originate from pine trees and seduces with a rich umami flavor. As a delicacy of the highest caliber, they are often referred to as the “King of Fall Foods.” The price of matsutake depends on the size of the annual crop, but they are rarely cheap. As the season’s October peak approaches, one 400g set of domestically grown matsutake typically sells for over $250.00 online. Prime specimens from Iwate prefecture are advertised for more than 3 times as much.
Fruit picking tours are a popular activity throughout the country in fall. Some fruits harvested include apples, and Asian pears. Those can either be eaten raw or prepared in a variety of dishes including desserts and sweets (wagashi). Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin are also harvested in fall, along with sweet potatoes. Kabocha is generally used in soup or as vegetable tempura, whereas sweet potato is roasted and often sold by street vendors.
The “Wagyu Beef” of the Fruit World
Sweet persimmons (kaki), however, are the crown jewel of fall, and it is common to find rows of persimmons tied on strings all along the countryside. This was an old preservation method, which has been made in Japan for centuries. The ancient practice grew out of a need to preserve this sweet orange fruit – similar to dried apricots or dates but with a deeper flavor throughout the winter.
Despite of being extremely time-consuming—the painstaking process takes at least six weeks—hoshigaki (dried persimmons) has lingered on due to its super sweet payoff: Once dried, the permission has a delightful honey cinnamon flavor, jam dried-fruit consistency, and sells for up to $50 per pound.
While the outer skin can be bitter, the inner flesh is soft and luscious and best eaten raw. dried persimmon should be chewy and moist with a floral aroma and musky sweetness. Once ready, hoshigaki can be simply sliced and served with tea. The sweet, dried persimmon also pairs nicely with salty cheese. Alternatively, chop up hoshigaki and mix it into your favorite muffin recipe.
Over the past 20 years, more and more culinary pioneers in the Western world have started to experiment with the complex orange fruit. Whether you like the flesh firm or squishy or even dried, they are an excellent autumn treat. In San Francisco, award-winning chef Edouardo Jordan was inspired to tackle the delicacy after visiting a cultured pickle shop where the Japanese owner introduced the chef to the dried hoshigaki project she was working on. This kicked off the chef’s love affair with this sweet delight.
Executive Chef Ben Orpwood introduced dried persimmons at Gordon Ramsay´s restaurant Lucky Cat. Ben first came across this tradition on a visit to Japan, today he is dedicated to the cumbersome process in his restaurant. Once fruits are peeled, hung, and dried for a few days he carefully massages them by hand every day to convert starch into sugar. This is what eventually gives the fruits their stickiness, which can take 4-6 weeks in total. So, it’s no wonder persimmons are often regarded as the ‘wagyu’ of the fruit world and often treated as a special gift for special occasions in Japan.
At the restaurant, Ben is excited to experiment with them in new desserts “We’ve got a pre-dessert that features both fresh and dried persimmon for contrast, paired with an amazing mandarin vinegar for that sweet-and-sour balance. I also love the idea of using them in a sticky toffee pudding recipe, perhaps flavored with additional spices such as white cardamom for a more fragrant take on the winter classic.”
In Japan, Hoshigaki are also used as ornaments in traditional New Year’s decorations and are considered a sign of good luck and longevity. In the digital world, Persimmons Hanging on Strings are currently taking over Food Instagram. Those, however, shouldn´t be sweet eye-candy only any longer. So, get some and treat yourself with this delicious fruit. It´s “appetite season” after all.
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