Spring is an exciting time for vegetable lovers in Japan. Udo (Aralia cordata) is spikenard. It is grown here in Tokyo in the area where we live. It is grown underground and the spears are white or with a hint of green. There is even a character, Udora, for udo in Tachikawa. While most characters strive to be kawaii (cute), Udora is far from kawaii.
Udo reminds me of the white asparagus I had while living in Belgium, just with a bit of bitterness to it. It is lovely as tempura, as served at Nihonbashi Tenmatsu.
Two of my other favorite dishes are kinpira (top photo), sautéed with oil, sake, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar. The bottom photo is boiled udo dressed with mayonnaise and umeboshi.
Udo is one of Japan’s spring vegetables that is very easy to cook at home.