Pickles play an essential role on the Japanese Table. It is served at many meals. At a kaiseki meal it is included in the rice course with miso soup. Casual curry shops serve fukujin-zuke, a soy-based relish made with daikon, eggplant, and cucumbers. If you really love Japanese pickles, then be sure to have a meal at Kintame. There are two restaurants in Tokyo, my favorite is in Monzennakacho, but the branch at Tokyo Station’s Daimaru department store is centrally located.
We try to include pickles when we can. It’s an easy way to get an extra vegetable dish on the table and fermented foods are good for you.
In the photo above are three pickles from Nakagawaya at Tsukiji Market. On the left is the pickle that I am currently crazy for. Thin slices of ginger and garlic pickled in soy sauce. It has a kick and is great with white rice, fried rice, or simply over tofu. In the middle is an aromatic yuzu and soft kabu turnips. On the right is pickled zassai (Brassica juncea), a Sichuan vegetable called zha cai, which has a nice texture and unique flavor profile that is not usually found in Japanese cuisine.
There are many shops at Tsukiji Market selling pickles, but none have the selection and variety that Nakagawaya has. The shop is located in the outer market and is easy to find. Some of the pickles are vacuum-packed so it is easy to pack in your luggage to bring home. The staff here are very friendly and the selection is changing throughout the year. There are many regional pickles brought in from all over Japan like iburigakko, the smoked daikon pickle from Akita.
This spring we had bamboo shoots and nanohana (field mustard). The bamboo shoots were very tender and pickled in a light-colored soy sauce. The nanohana had a bit of a spicy bite to it.
We have tried making kabocha squash pickles at home to no success. The kabocha here has a soft crunch to it and adds a beautiful color to any table.
Eggplants are in season now and these are harvested young, perfect for pickling. The kabocha pickles are sold like this.
Nukazuke (rice bran pickles) are something we make at home. Here you can see in the box cucumbers, carrots, and turnips. The rice bran is washed off before cutting and serving the pickles.
Here are the misozuke (miso pickles) of cucumbers, ginger, daikon, eggplant, and gobo (burdock root).
A very unique pickle that is fun to try are these made from nagaimo and yamaimo potatoes. The pickles have a very crunchy texture but once you start chewing they become very slimy. These come in flavors of shiso, wasabi, and tamari soy sauce. In the bottom pickle can you see that kombu (kelp) is wrapped around the pickles and tied with kampyō (gourd)?
Wasabi-zuke is a pickle made from wasabi and saké lees, on the bottom, the two pickles one the left (975 JPY and 760 JPY). Next to that is saké kasu (saké lees) and kōji. Both of these are great fun to cook with at home. We use the saké lees for marinating fish before grilling. The kōji is a very popular cooking ingredient for making shio kōji and soy sauce kōji that can be used as a pickling agent, marinade for proteins, and as a seasoning for stir-fries, salad dressings, and soup.
Tsukiji Nakagawaya 築地中川屋
Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-8-5 中央区築地4-8-5