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Exploring the Flavors of Autumn: Must-Try Fall Food in Japan

Autumn is the season for eating! Well, that is, according to a Japanese adage. This adage stems from the old belief that one’s appetite increases in autumn because of the abundance of harvest after the summer and the body needing to prepare for winter. The arrival of autumn brings a season of vibrant colors and an insatiable autumn appetite.


Kaki (Persimmons)

Photo from istockphoto.com (kuppa_rock)


The arrival of autumn in Japan coincides with the peak season for persimmons, locally known as "kaki." These radiant, orange fruits not only add a pop of color to the landscape but also bring a burst of sweet, succulent flavor to the palate. Persimmons are enjoyed fresh, dried to create hoshigaki, or incorporated into traditional Japanese sweets like kaki manju. They are a symbol of the season's vibrant harvest.


Hojicha



Photo by @chopstickchronicles

While Japan is renowned for its green tea, it's hojicha that takes center stage during the fall. Hojicha is created by roasting green tea leaves, imparting a warm, toasty aroma and a nutty, soothing flavor. It's the ideal beverage to sip while wrapped in a cozy blanket, providing a comforting respite from the autumn chill.


Oden


Oden, a beloved Japanese comfort food, comes into its own during the brisk autumn evenings. This hearty one-pot dish features various ingredients like daikon radish, boiled eggs, konjac noodles, and fish cakes simmered in a savory soy-based broth. The wafting aroma of oden invites people to gather at street stalls, savoring a bowl of warmth and nostalgia.


Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin)

Photo from Just One Cookbook

Kabocha, the Japanese pumpkin, stands as a pillar of autumn cuisine. Its sweet, nutty flesh and vivid orange hue make it a versatile ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes. Kabocha often stars in tempura, stews, or the comforting kabocha nimono—a simmered dish. It also finds a place in delightful desserts such as kabocha pie and kabocha mochi, showcasing its adaptability in Japanese kitchens.


Ginkgo Nuts


Ginkgo nuts, known as ginnan, are a unique and slightly bitter delicacy synonymous with autumn in Japan. These small, green nuts are gathered from the ginkgo tree and are frequently enjoyed after a gentle simmer in a soy-based sauce. Their distinct flavor and texture make them a sought-after ingredient in various dishes and snacks, adding a touch of autumn's charm to every bite.


Yaki Imo (Roasted Sweet Potatoes)

Photo from Just One Cookbook

Yaki imo, or roasted sweet potatoes, are a quintessential autumn snack in Japan. Vendors can be found on street corners roasting sweet potatoes in wood-fired ovens. The sweet, caramelized aroma wafting through the air is irresistible. These warm, soft sweet potatoes are often enjoyed straight from the oven, providing a comforting and nostalgic taste of fall.


Kuri Gohan (Chestnut Rice)

Photo from Just One Cookbook

Chestnuts, or kuri in Japanese, are another hallmark of autumn cuisine. Kuri gohan is a traditional Japanese rice dish where chestnuts are added to rice during the cooking process. The natural sweetness of chestnuts infuses the rice, creating a harmonious balance of flavors. It's a comforting dish that perfectly complements the cool weather of fall.


Sanma (Pacific Saury)


Sanma, or Pacific saury, is a popular fish in Japan during the fall season. This fish is known for its oily and flavorful flesh, making it a favorite choice for grilling. The crispy skin and tender meat of sanma are often seasoned with a touch of salt and served with grated daikon radish and soy sauce. It's a simple yet incredibly delicious dish that's best enjoyed when the air begins to turn crisp.


Matsutake Mushrooms

Photo from The Japanese Food Lab

Autumn is mushroom season in Japan, and the highly-prized matsutake mushrooms take center stage during this time. Known for their rich, earthy aroma and unique texture, matsutake mushrooms are used in a variety of dishes, including sukiyaki, grilled over an open flame, or added to flavorful rice dishes like matsutake gohan. These mushrooms are a true delicacy and are often associated with the changing leaves of autumn.


Momiji Tempura


One of the most iconic fall foods in Japan is momiji tempura. Momiji are maple leaves that turn vibrant shades of red and orange during the autumn season. In many regions, these leaves are harvested and dipped in a light tempura batter, then deep-fried until crispy. The result is a delightful combination of crispy, slightly sweet, and earthy flavors that perfectly encapsulate the spirit of autumn.


When you find yourself in Japan during this time, seize the opportunity to partake in these culinary treasures and experience the magic of the season's "shokuyoku no aki"—the autumn of the hearty appetite.






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