April 14, 2009
by Chiho Inaba; Yukari Maruoka
When you come to Kyoto, what do you want to buy as a souvenir?
Let us introduce one of the most popular Kyoto souvenirs available
What is senmaizuke?
Senmaizuke is a delicious, traditional Kyoto pickle made from Shogoin turnips. The Shogoin turnip harvest takes place from November to February, so this is very much a winter food. Senmaizuke is also rather unique in comparison to other Kyoto pickles, as it is presented as extremely thin disc shaped slices. It is said that the name of this pickle originates from the possibility to produce 1,000 super thin slices from a single turnip.
Oguroya Fujisaburo created senmaizuke in 1865 as a special food for the imperial court, and preserved the turnip in salt to produce the lactic acid necessary for the fermentation process. In those days, it was not sliced so thinly, however, as the pickle masters of the time used simple kitchen knives to cut the vegetable. Later, following the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, the use of a ‘kanna’ or hand plane was introduced to obtain a thinner slice, and the practice has continued to the present day.
How to prepare senmaizuke at home
It is possible to prepare senmaizuke yourself at home, but you will need the right ingredients, certain special utensils, and a degree of skill and patience.
Shogoin turnips with a diameter of 18 – 20 cms
sheets of kelp
fine salt, rich in minerals
vinegar and sweet sake for seasoning
Paring the turnip
The first stage of preparation requires the paring and trimming of the vegetable ready for slicing.
Once pared, a Shogoin turnip needs to be soaked in water, because the surface dries out when it comes into contact with air over even a short period of time.
Slicing the turnip
Once the turnip has been pared and soaked, it is time to slice. You should slice the turnip with a kanna, as evenly as possible. You can cut the slices to a thickness of your own liking, but usually 2-3 mm is the norm.
The slices of turnip are arranged tightly, overlapping in concentric circles in a small, round wooden barrel, and the salt is shaken generously over them. More salt is sprinkled over each newly laid layer of turnip slices, until there are enough layers to satisfy your needs. The turnip should then be left to pickle in the salt for 2-4 days.
After 2-4 days, any excess moisture or build up of salt needs to be drained off.
Final pickling stage
Now the seasonings and kelp need to be added to the barrel, and the repacking process of the turnip slices with the new ingredients completed.
Murakamiju is a famous and traditional senmaizuke shop known throughout Japan. There is one original store in Kyoto, and 8 branches around Japan, 7 of which are located in the food halls of Takashimaya department stores. These stores can be found in major cities such as Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka, where their exclusive brand of pickles are on offer all year round.
Recipes for senmaizuke have changed recently, with pickling in sweet vinegar on the increase. Murakamiju, however, stick to their tried and trusted method according to an old family recipe. This involves a process where the finest Shogoin turnips from Tanba are pickled only with kelp and fine salt from Hokkaido. The resulting sweetness of the turnip is chiefly attributed to the seaweed, and the effect of the lactic fermentation process.
Original store details
Tel: (075) 351 1737
Fax: (075) 365 0871
Weekdays: 9.00 am ~ 7.00 pm
Weekends & holidays: 9.00 am ~ 7.30 pm