Gotta Get – Sansai Mountain Vegetables




Today at lunch I was reminded of what a special time of year this is. This gorgeous katakuchi bowl was presented with simmered octopus, fava beans, and fukiFuki is the stem of a bog rhubarb. It is no relation to the rhubarb I grew up with in Minnesota. It looks like a thin celery and has a somewhat similar texture, although more refined and elegant.


This time of year when sansai (mountain vegetables), like kogomi ferns, spring up from under the leaves that have covered the ground over winter. Angelica trees start to bud and the tender greens, tara no me, are harvested. And one of my favorites is the bitter butterbur, fuki no to, that is best when served as tempura. Some of these can be blanched and served with a splash of soy sauce.

If you are visiting Japan this spring, be sure to have a meal at a tempura restaurant that serves sansai. If you go out to an izakaya, ask them if they have any dishes with sansai. Some sansai are only around for a few weeks, so carpe diem.

February Seasonal Japanese Fruits and Vegetables 2月旬の野菜

Sansai Gohan

Sansai Gohan

Sansai, Japanese mountain vegetables, start to come into the market this time of year. Growing up, my mother and her Korean friend, Ki-san, would forage for warabi (fiddleheads of bracken) in the forest in Minnesota. There was always a short window to pick these as they grow very quickly. Once home the fiddleheads were washed thoroughly, blanched, and then simply dressed with some soy sauce. Fuki (giant butterbur) cooked into a sweet soy broth Tsukudani style is one favorite. Fukinoto (butterbur buds) are best when deep-fried as tempura. Shungiku leaves are wonderful in nabe (hotpots) or blanched and dressed with a sesame dressing. But perhaps my favorite thing this time of year is sansai served over soba or cooked with the rice for sansai gohan.

Sansai Soba

Sansai Soba

Broccoli –

Cabbage –

Cauliflower –

Celery –

Daikon –

Fuki – giant butterbur

Fukinoto – butterbur buds

Gobo – burdock root

Hakusai – Napa cabbage

Hoursensou – spinach

Komatsuna – Japanese green (sometimes called mustard spinach) in turnip family

Kuwai – arrowhead

Mitsuba – Japanese hornwort (also called Japanese parsley)

Mizuna – Japanese green (sometimes called potherb mustard)

Yamaimo – Japanese mountain yam

Nanohana – rapeseed flowers

Naganegi – Japanese leeks

Ninjin – carrots

Nozawana – Nozawa greens (in the same family as the turnip)

Renkon – lotus root

Seri – Japanese celery

Shungiku – chrysanthemum leaves

Udo – udo (a Japanese vegetable in the ginseng family)

Wakegi – green onions

Warabi – fiddleheads of bracken

Yurine – lily root


Strawberries are all over the markets now, and perhaps best experienced in sweets found at depachika. We try to keep some fresh yuzu in the fridge using the juice for ponzu and the aromatic peel as a garnish. The Los Angeles Times recently did an interesting article on dekopon.

Daidai – a type of orange

Dekopon – a type of citrus

Hassaku – a type of citrus

Ichigo – strawberry

Iyokan – a type of citrus

Kinkan – kumquat

Kiwi –

Lemon –

Navel orange –

Ponkan – a type of tangerine

Ringo – apple

Setoka – a type of citrus

Yuzu –