Fall Foods in Japan

2009 October 13

America has some favorite fall foods like pumpkins and candy apples, and Japan is no different with certain dishes and ingredients strongly associated with autumn. How many have you tried?

satsuma-imo Satsuma-imo (薩摩芋): Sweet potato

These are very similar to yams, though the flesh is softer and the inside is more yellow than orange. The outside is often purplish in color, and satsuma-imo are often used in tempura or candied as a dessert (pictured). In Kyoto, I often heard the loud, broadcasted voice of the yaki-imo (焼芋 – baked sweet potato) man as his truck passed down the street during the fall evenings. A recipe for a sweet potato dessert can be found here.
kuri Kuri (栗): Chestnuts

Though more associated with winter in the US, in Japan chestnuts are very much an autumn food. They can be roasted, boiled, or cooked with rice to make kuri-gohan. The related maron (マロン) chestnuts are mostly used in desserts.
matsutake Matsutake (松茸): Matsutake mushrooms

Matsutake are a type of very expensive pine mushroom in Japan. They usually grow under the fallen leaves of certain varieties of pine tree, which makes harvesting a very painstaking process. As such, these mushrooms, like truffles, are quite pricey. The cost has gone up even more due to a pine nematode decimating the population of the necessary domestic trees in the past 50 years or so. High-grade matsutake grown in Japan can be up to $909/lb, though imported mushrooms average at $41/lb. In comparison, black truffles are usually $127-383/lb and white truffles are $2200-1000/lb (according to Wikipedia). Matsutake can be cooked with rice, put in soup, steamed, fried in tempura, and much more.
kaki Kaki (柿): Persimmon

Japanese kaki are most widely cultivated persimmons in the world. The sweet fruit can be eaten raw once ripe, or dried for later.

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