Best Japanese Food to Try in Autumn
The most delicious dishes to eat in Japan at Autumn
In Japan, the seasons are very important and have a huge influence on food. I know that this happens in several countries, not only in Japan. But I feel it’s stronger here than in other countries. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, unlike other countries that have more flexible export and import policies, Japan has traditionally been very protective of its agricultural sector.
The fact that food has been marked by the season of the year since ancient times is related to the natural cycle of certain fruits and vegetables. However, with globalization, this has been lost (if in your country it’s winter and there is no X thing, you can import from a country where at that time is summer). Of course there are limits. You can’t bring in a watermelon in winter.
But as I say, with Japan being more closed in that respect, I think these customs have been preserved more than in countries with more open policies. Each season has some typical dishes and some of them can only be found in certain seasons or specific days.
If you are are living In Japan for a while or are planning to come in the future around Autumn, you will probably want to try traditional Japanese dishes that cannot be found in an ordinary Japanese restaurant abroad or are not the typical dishes (like ramen, sushi, etc). Since one of the best ways to jump into Japanese culture is to taste real Japanese food, the food that Japanese families eat at home on a daily basis. And in Japan there’re plenty of delicious dishes to enjoy in autumn! Here are some of them:
Satsuma-imo (Sweet Potatoes)
One of the star products of autumn in Japan is undoubtedly sweet potatoes. I know that sweet potatoes aren’t something that exists only in Japan, and that they’re typical in autumn. But in Japan they have a type of purple sweet potato (instead of the more common orange) and they’re really popular. Especially roasted sweet potatoes, called yaki-imo. There are many street trucks or stalls owned by old men selling them, and even in some supermarkets or mega stores like Don Quijote.
Another popular way to eat them is glazed in a caramelized syrup, called candied sweet potatoes or daigaku-imo in Japanese.
Kuri-gohan (Chestnuts Rice)
Chestnuts are also typical in many countries when autumn arrives. But in Japan they have a different way to enjoy this fruit. Rice with chestnuts, known as kuri-gohan (kuri -栗- is chestnut and gohan is rice). It’s very easy to prepare, just put the rice and chestnuts in the rice cooker and that’s it. The chestnuts give a very tasty aroma and flavor to the rice, and it feels like the taste of autumn.
Of course, chestnuts are also eaten in the typical way, roasted. But also in other ways. For example, sweets with chestnut filling are very common and can be found in many places – once I was even given a chestnut tea to taste!
Matsutake (Pine Mushroom)
The king of autumn in Japan is undoubtedly the matsutake (松茸), a type of mushroom that can only be eaten at this time of year. Matsutake is often compared to truffles, because of its rich taste and pleasant smell. Also because of its high price. Although it’s so delicious, matsutake cannot be artificially cultivated so there are very few of them and that is why they are so precious (and expensive).
In some cases, a single piece of matsutake can cost as much as 10,000 yen. Of course not all cases are like this, but they are expensive. That’s why it’s most common for the average Japanese family to eat it in a soup made with dashi broth or with rice, such as chestnut rice. Thus, with just one or two pieces, the whole family can enjoy its flavor. It’s considered that only very wealthy people can afford to savor the taste of roasted matsutake.
If you would like to try making matsutake soup at home, here’s an easy and simple recipe!
Shinmai (New Rice)
A Japanese autumn tradition is linked to one of the staples of the Japanese diet: shinmai (新米), or “new rice”. In Japan, rice is only harvested once a year, and that’s in autumn. So the rice at that time is when it’s at its freshest, and therefore most delicious.
This rice is said to be soft and sweeter than the usual one, and the Japanese are looking forward to this season. Shinmai can only be purchased until early December. After that, it’s no longer new and is no longer sold until the next harvest.
Kabocha Korokke (Pumpkin Croquette)
Another product that is common in autumn in many countries is pumpkin. Even Starbucks has its famous Pumpkin Latte. But as with chestnuts, in Japan this product is eaten in a way that, at least I have not seen elsewhere: pumpkin croquettes!
Croquettes are very typical in Japan, you can find them in any conbini, especially meat. But I had never tasted pumpkin croquettes. And I must admit that they are more delicious than I thought. You can eat them alone or for example with hot soba.
Sanma (Pacific saury)
If you ask a Japanese person about typical autumn foods, one of the first things that will come to mind is sanma (秋刀魚). This fish is so deeply rooted in the Japanese autumn, that its name literally means “Autumn swordfish” ( the kanji -秋-in her name means autumn)
The most popular way to eat this fish is salt-grilled, (sanma no shioyaki). It’s served with a slice of lemon and daikon radish on the side to be added to taste. And it is accompanied in “typical Japanese style”.
For those of you who are used to traditional Japanese food, you will know that it’s very common for a dish (usually fish or meat) to be accompanied by a set of a bowl of white rice and miso soup. Or in this case, if you want to make a 100% autumn combination, you can accompany it with chestnut rice and matsutake soup.
Nashi (Asian Pear)
The quintessential Japanese autumn fruit is the nashi (梨) or asian pears. This fruit originated in East Asia, and the Japanese love it. Personally, I find it to be a cross between an apple and a pear in both taste and texture. It’s very sweet and refreshing. Definitely you have to give it a try it if you are in Japan at this time of the year.
Katsuo (Skipjack tuna)
Autumn is a good time of the year for fish lovers in Japan. Katsuo (鰹), a very popular type of tuna among the Japanese, has two seasons. One is in spring and the other in autumn. In autumn these fish go to the Philippines in search of warmer waters. It’s at that time, when they are returning following the waters, that fishermen catch the katsuo. That’s why in Japanese it’s known as modori-gatsuo (modori in Japanese means ‘returning’). The other season is spring because that is when they come to Japan from the Philippines.
There are many ways to eat katsuo, such as the traditional Japanese sashimi (raw fish). But the most successful way in Japan is the katsuo tataki, which consists of cooking only the outside of the fish and cutting it into slices. In this way it’s cooked on the outside and raw on the inside.
Persimmon, or kaki (柿) in Japanese, is the most popular fruit in autumn. Although it doesn’t look like a fruit (or at least, the first time I saw them I thought they were a strange orange tomatoes). But despite their unappetizing appearance, persimmons are sweet and taste great. And they’re easy to find in any supermarket and unlike other fruits, they’re cheap.
Salmon can be eaten all year round in Japan. However, autumn is a special season if you like salmon. As with katsuo, salmon also return. In this case, they return from the sea to the river to lay their eggs. Salmon can be caught in the sea or in the river, but according to the Japanese, it’s tastier and better if caught in the river. It’s also said that if it’s caught before it lays its eggs and goes up the river, it’s most delicious (because if it goes up the river it uses a lot of energy and gets hurt). As when it comes to fish in Japan, here too there are many ways to eat it. But for autumn my recommendation is grilled salmon. Taste the best with white rice and miso soup!
What do you think of these dishes? Have you tried any of them? Tell us what you the best food to try in your country in autumn! And If you want to know the best restaurants in Japan where to try some of these dishes or what to do in Japan in winter, don’t miss these articles too!
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