A Closer Look At Some Favourite Japanese Tsukemono | CoolJapan

Have you ever wondered what those colourful pickled side dishes that come with your main dish when eating Japanese food are? Besides adding a little aesthetic and colour to your meal, these little dishes are known as Tsukemono or Japanese pickles, an integral part of traditional Japanese food culture and are usually served alongside rice and miso soup.

Tsukemono was developed as a way to preserve food back in the day before refrigeration was available. Tsukemono pickling can be achieved through a variety of methods like adding salt, soaking in vinegar or leaving it to ferment.

Here are three common Tsukemono that you may have encountered with your Japanese meals, and some speciality regional versions to try on your next trip to Japan.


Daikon radishes

(Photo from: mdid via Wikimedia Commons)

Thin bright yellow slices of daikon radishes are dried in the sun and then pickled in a mixture largely consisting of salt, sugar and rice bran. The result — a crunchy sweet and sour complement often served alongside rice dishes or made into Shinkomaki, which is sushi made with Takuan.

Speciality Takuan from Akita: Iburigakko

If you visit Akita in northern Japan, you’ll notice that the Takuan there is quite different. Known locally as Iburigakko, the daikon is smoked instead of sun-dried, resulting in a dark brown and uniquely smoky-tasting tsukemono instead of the typical yellow Takuan. This is typically eaten with Ochazuke, a rice-soup dish that combines Iburigakko with rice and green tea.


Iburigakko, smoked daikon pickles, is a speciality of Akita prefecture. (Photo from: Akita Prefecture)


Umeboshi Tsukemono

(Photo from: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay)

Ume also known as Japanese plums, but when dried and pickled are called Umeboshi, are a popular Tsukemono that’s quite sour and salty. Sometimes eaten as a snack on its own, Umeboshi stimulates the appetite and is often used as a filling in onigiri rice balls or eaten as a Hinomaru Bento with a single Umeboshi placed in a rectangle box of white rice that's made to resemble the Japanese flag.

Highest quality ume from Wakayama

Wakayama Umeboshi

Umeboshi is usually dried under sunlight. (Photo from: Wakayama Prefecture)

Umeboshi can be found throughout Japan, but the Wakayama region produces more than half of the country’s Ume. The town of Minabe is known for its top-quality Ume, specifically, the Nanko-Ume which has a small seed, thin skin and soft flesh, and it is here that the practice of pickling Ume with red shiso perilla leaves originated.


Gari tsukemono

(Photo from: DoWhile via Wikimedia Commons)

Gari is another commonly seen tsukemono consisting of thin slices of pinkish ginger pickled in sugar, salt and rice vinegar. It’s generally sweet and zesty and is served alongside sushi and sashimi dishes as a palate cleanser as it masks fishy smells well — but be sure to eat the Gari between dishes and not pile it on top of your sushi.

If you take the young ginger and pickle it in umezu, the plum vinegar that is the byproduct of making umeboshi, you’ll end up with a bright reddish Tsukemono that’s salty and spicy called Beni Shoga.

Shoga Matsuri — The Ginger Root Festival

Ginger is considered to have medicinal properties and the Japanese sometimes turn it into a tea or add it to beverages as a home remedy of sorts. It even has a festival dedicated to it that takes place in Tokyo’s Shiba Daijingu. The Daradara Matsuri that happens in mid-September is nicknamed the Shoga (Ginger Root) Festival where you can find stalls selling fresh ginger roots, believed to help ward off negative vibes.

(Cover photo from: DoWhile via Wikimedia Commons)