Using seasonal ingredients is the golden rule of washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine).
In 2013, washoku was included as an asset on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list. With the advent of autumn, many foods start coming into their peak of flavor, and while we don't have space to list them all, here are a few of the culinary treats you won't want to miss.
Known as pacific saury or mackerel pike, sanma is a red meat fish, but is also called a "blue" fish. Like other "blue" fish, sanma has a rich, somewhat oily flavor, but its taste is lighter than other "blue" fish, namely mackerel or herring. The kanji characters read "fall sword fish," and indeed sanma look like slender silver swords! As the weather turns colder, they gain fat, and become deliciously sweet. Sanma can be enjoyed in many ways, such as sashimi, sushi, grilled (fresh or in its dried form) or simmered.
These cherished mushrooms in Japan are also coveted in other parts of Asia. Matsutake, whose name means "pine mushroom" (Japanese domestic matsutake grow under red pines) grow only under specific growing conditions and certain locations, and their prices can be astronomical. Their characteristic aroma and flavor can be likened to pine and cinnamon, and they are the highlight of many autumn menus—cooked with other vegetables in broth in an earthen teapot (dobin-mushi); enjoyed in a clear soup; as tempura; or in a savory egg custard (chawan-mushi). Many people enjoy them best grilled raw, then sprinkled with a touch of citrus and soy sauce.
Kuri, or Japanese chestnuts, are large, sweet chestnuts that are enjoyed in wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries) like kuri manju and kurikinton, western-style sweets such as the cake called monburan (Mont Blanc), and also savory dishes, such as the beloved kurigohan, or chestnut rice. No matter how they are prepared, kuri say autumn like nothing else!
Sometimes called apple pears, nashi are really like neither with their distinct, yet mild aroma and intriguingly grainy texture. These snappingly crispy thin-skinned Japanese pears have a high water content and are best enjoyed peeled and raw. Large and relatively expensive, they are welcome gifts, and are fun to share because of their size. Their sweet juiciness makes them ideal for use in grated form in tart or salty vinaigrettes or marinades instead of sugar or honey.
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