October 3, 2017

by Sakina Nishitsuji, Nami Shinkado and Shiho Tojo

We will introduce about tsukemono. Tsukemono are Japanese-style pickles. Vegetables are pickled in salt, rice brain, miso or sake lees. They are served with rice as a side dish and with drinks as a snack. Tsukemono are beloved by many people in Japan. You can buy them pretty much everywhere in Japan. If you go to a supermarket, you will find them. There are various kinds. For example, takuan (daikon), umeboshi (ume plum), turnip, cucumber, and Chinese cabbage are among the favorites to be eaten with rice as an accompaniment to a meal. Some Japanese people make tsukemono by themselves. The easiest way of making tsukemono is just putting the vegetables with salt into a Ziploc bag. Roughly cut some vegetables of your choice and put them in a Ziploc bag, then add salt and kelp dashi stock and shake the bag. You release the air from the bag to make a lightly vacuum state in the bag and then stick it in the refrigerator for one or two hours. It is complete. This recipe for this preparation is simple but the tsukemono are delicious. Tsukemono are also popular with foreigners, not just Japanese people. And Kyoto has many specialty shops of tsukemono, so you can buy some kinds of tsukemono at Kyoto. It is really great for souvenirs. Tsukemono is known by most people, but they may not know the particulars about tsukemono. Tsukemono has a long history. So, below, we will introduce about the history of tsukemono, three major tsukemono outlets in Kyoto, and how to make tsukemono.

History of Tsukemono in Japan

Tsukemono have a long history in Japan.  Japan is surrounded by the seas, and it was a longstanding practice that food was preserved in salt or with salt water. Not only vegetables but also nuts, meat and fish were preserved with salt in order times. The origin of the tsukemono is not known for sure. However, when vegetables were not yet farmed, it is possible that people soaked the edible wild plants such as Japanese parsley or the bracken in seawater.

We do know that Chinese also used salt to preserve food. It was written that there was something like tsukemono in the old book called by the Chinese, “Shurei“. From 2000 years ago, it is said that a method to preserve food in salt was performed. As the times advanced, the tsukemono developed more, but came to be called “pickled vegetables” because the fragrance of the tsukemono improved when the Muromachi Era began, in 1336, by fermenting. Not only were tsukemono liked as side dishes and the tea cake of the meal, but also pickled plums came to be used in the sterilization of the wounds in the battlefield to prevent bacterial infection and blood poisoning. The Muromachi Era was an age of civil strife. And in Edo era, beginning in 1603, the tsukemono shop called the pickled vegetables shop appeared. From this era, tsukemono came to be eaten by the people at large. In addition, the kinds of vegetables grown in Japan increased, and during the Edo Era, beginning in 1603, many merchants came from all over the country to study some techniques and innovations in seasoning and how to make tsukemono. In the Meiji Era, beginning in 1868, Takuanduke and Naraduke became the important side business in the farmhouses in the suburbs of major cities, including Tokyo. During Taisho Era, from 1912, and the Showa Era, from 1926, the pickle manufacturing industry developed into a major commercial business. Recently, an important point is focus on the health. Fermented foods, according to recent scientific research, are important for intestinal health. That information made tsukemono even more desirable all over Japan.


Three Popular Varieties of Tsukemono

There are 3 famous kinds of tsukemono in Kyoto. One is Shiba-zuke. Shiba-zuke are made of eggplant, perilla leaves and cucumber pickled in natural lactic fermentation. Shiba-zuke vegetables are sprinkled with salt and are matured in a barrel for some months. Shiba-zuke was first made in the latter half of Edo period, about 300 to 150 years ago. A second kind of popular pickled vegetables is senmai-zuke. It is pickled turnip. Senmai-zuke which are sold in supermarkets are traditional pickles in Kyoto and are produced by marinating paper-thin slices of turnips with pieces of kelp, red peppers and vinegar. The third type of pickles is Suguki-zuke. Suguki-zuke is made of suguki, a kind of tunip, pickled with its own leaves. It is a kind of pickle which preserves both the leaf and the root of the Brassica campestris in salt. It features clear acidity. Recently, it gradually has become famous as a health food around the world. These pickles are called three best tsukemono in Kyoto.

The Old Tsukemono Shops of Kyoto

“Kyotsukemono” or Kyoto style Tsukemono includes various kinds of pickles. Pickles are available in many places but there are 5 famous old shops in Kyoto which still the. The first is Daitou. It is the shop which is the birthplace of the senmai-zuke. This shop was built in 1865. It has long history for about 150 years. Senmai-zuke is very popular in Daitou. The reason is rich taste. The second shop is Murakamiju. It is the shop which became the model of the pickle shop when it appeared in the NHK drama “Kyohutari” broadcast in 1990. The third shop is Akaoya. This shop is the oldest of them all. It was built in 1699. It has been making pickles and history for over 300 years. Pickles in Akaoya are made with a moderate amount of salt. The next shop is Narita. It is famous for suguki-zuke. It was built in 1804. The traditional taste continues now. Finally, there is Kinse. This shop was built in 1764. There are various pickles in Kinse. At Kinse, they do not use any preservatives or additives. On the other hand, this shop also makes an effort in new product development.

In conclusion, tsukemono were called the Chinese “Shurei” in long time ago.

After having passed for years, that name changed from “Shurei” to “pickled vegetables”, and it gradually became famous in Japan. Nowadays, many people buy tsukemono. There are 3 famous tsukemono, Shiba-zuke, senmai-zuke, and suguki-zuke in Kyoto. Speciality shops of tsukemono are long established businesses in Kyoto. For example, Daitou, Murakamiju, and Kinse.  These shops are very popular among Japanese people and foreigners. If you want to eat tsukemono, we recommend that you visit Kyoto.