There’s a saying in Japan-- “shokuyoku no aki,” meaning “Autumn is the time for healthy appetites.” And here at Mochidoki, we agree. Since it’s officially fall, let’s take a trip to the homeland of mochi and learn about some of Japan’s staple fall foods.
In many places around the world “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” brings to mind eggnog, questionable sweaters and all things Christmas, But in Japan, , it’s a long awaited flavor that comes with cool fall days. Christmas is actually the season for KFC fried chicken, but that's a story for another blog. Roasted chestnuts are a fall staple in Japan. Street vendors pop up around parks and at community festivals to offer aromatic, warm bags of freshly roasted chestnuts to passersby. At home and in restaurants, chestnuts are mixed in rice to create a classic dish called kurigohan. In confectionary shops you can find dozens of varieties of beautiful, sienna colored goodies like manju or our favorite, chestnut mochi!
Sweet Potatoes (さつまいも)
Sweet Potato is the definitive Japanese fall flavor. Think of it like in the US, it’s so closely associated with autumn that it's almost strange to have it at other times of year. At the beginning of fall, people will line up for their first taste of the season. Where we have the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Starbucks in Japan serves a Sweet Potato Latte as the seasonal special. You can’t visit any shrine in the fall without finding carts stocked with freshly roasted sweet potatoes called yaki imo. Finally, if you’re ever in Japan during this time, make sure you try Japanese sweet potato pie. Made with puff pastry instead of what’s typically considered a pie, this beautifully flaky and buttery fall classic can’t be missed.
Another quintessential fall flavor is grilled Pacific Saury. It’s telling that in kanji, sanma is 秋刀魚. When translated literally, it reads “autumn-sword-fish”, aptly named for the season and the sword kanji is in reference to its sword-like shape. Sanma migration patterns bring it right off the coast of Japan in early autumn, so for generations its coming has been a sign of the changing seasons. Traditionally roasted over charcoal and served with miso soup and rice, it’s just the thing for those brisk fall evenings.
Matsutake Mushrooms (松茸)
Next, we have the matsutake mushroom which is well known for its delicate, yet intense, umami taste and even more famous for its incredible rarity and price. Matsutake can’t be cultivated, it has to be foraged, like truffles. The mushrooms are harvested in autumn, so it’s no surprise that this delicacy is so tied with the season-- if you can find it! The most popular dishes are matsutake mushrooms donburi, which is a rice bowl, or formed into rice balls called onigiri.
Persimmon (かき, 柿)
Rounding out our list of Japanese fall staples is the wonderful persimmon. What is today a comfort food, was a practical means of surviving the long, cold and wet Japanese winter centuries ago. Fresh persimmon, though it was bountiful, is bitter and astringent. However, it can be sun-dried to develop a much sweeter and enjoyable flavor that is rich and honey-like. So it would have been harvested in the fall and prepared to be enjoyed throughout the winter-- a dish known as hoshigaki. But today, there’s no need to wait until winter, and you’ll find that persimmon, fresh or dried, is a sweet and tasty fall favorite enjoyed across Japan.