April 16, 2007
by Tomoya Hirao; Yuki Fukuhara; Yoshimi Morino
Kyoto has a lot of the cultural characteristics of Japanese tradition in its architecture, people and things. Those traditional things are sophisticated, delicate and reflect Kyoto people’s identity. Kyotsukemono has been one of their specialties. Its quality is rich and sophisticated. It has its own characteristics. Well, what is tsukemono, what is kyotsukemono, how is it made, and why is it special?
In short, tsukemono is a pickled vegetable born in Japan. Tsukemono is a common food in Japan. It is served at many places. Tsukemono is a food without distinction of rank. It is served at a meal of the imperial house, a light dish before tea ceremony, a daily side dish of common people, and even at a vegetarian meal of monks. Tsukemono has a long history which starts from prehistoric times. In many places, people learned to preserve foods in order to keep them for a longer time. As Japan was surrounded by ocean, Japanese people started salting foods to preserve them at a very early period. Not only vegetables were pickled but also fruits, and the flesh ofbirds, fish and animals. There are many ways to make tsukemono. The recipes are different in each place. Therefore, there are so many kinds of tsukemono in Japan. Kyotsukemono is a name for all tsukemono made in Kyoto rather than other places. Its taste and look are sophisticated. The name sounds sophisticated because Kyoto has its own regional brand. Kyoto is known for its rich seasons. Those big differences between each season invoke the delicate senses of Kyoto people. Kyoto was the imperial capital for 1200 years. That awareness creates the image of high quality for Kyoto’s things. Then, Kyoto has three major kinds of tsukemono.
One of Kyoto’s major tsukemono is suguki. Suguki is a time-honored kyotsukemono. Suguki is made of suigukina (a kind of turnip). It is made with salt and an original process. Its taste is plain and a little bit salty, with a mild acid flavor. The making of suguki starts from the beginning of November. First pickle-makers cut koesuji (suigukina root) and peel its rind. Then, pickle-makers put them in a special pail called itameoke and salt them down for one day. The next morning, after finishing shitazuke, the pickle-makers take the pickles out of the pail and wash them with clean water. Next comes the main part of the process. Pickle-makers put the vegetables in a pail called handaru and arrange them so that the pail has no empty space, and sprinkle salt on each layer of sugukina inside of handaru. After they finish it, pickle-makers put the lid on the pail and put 120kg of weight onto it using a traditional way called tenbin (a kind of lever). The leverage makes the weight twice as heavy. Within two days, the inside of the pail gets squeezed and has space for more sugukina, which pickle-makers add to the pail. After finishing the process of squeezing out water , they move the pail to the room called muro, which is warm and tightly closed. Pickle-makers roll the pail in straw to add more heat and leave the pickles for about five days. After finishing that part, pickle-makers unroll the pail, put 40kg of weight onto the pail, and leave the pickles outside for a few days. That is the process of making of suguki. The picture of using tenbin is often considered as one of Kyoto’s special features in winter.
Another of Kyoto’s major tsukemono is shibazuke. Shibazuke is salted rape blossoms. This is made from the combination of various kinds of vegetables such as myouga (a kind of ginger) shiso (perilla), and kamonasu (an eggplant grown in Kamigamo in Kyoto). Shibazuke is reddish purple. The flavor of myouga and shiso is quite refreshing and really goes with ochazuke (soaked rice with green tea). The process of making shibazuke is quite interesting because it really gets squeezed. First, pickle-makers wash vegetables with clean water and cut the eggplant and ginger lengthways. The pickle-makers massage those vegetables with salt. Next, the pickle-makers put them into the barrel: eggplant is first, next is ginger and last is perilla, with salt sprinkled between each layer. At this point, the barrel should be really full. After that, they put the lid onto the barrel and put heavy weights on it. As time goes by, the pickles will release a really bitter juice called kisui, which is thrown out. Without the bitter juice, the pickle-makers can combine two barrels into one. After repeating this process two or three times, they leave the pickles and within about two weeks, they will ferment naturally and become shibazuke. Shibazuke is only made in summer because eggplants grow only in this time. So, shibazuke is often considered as Kyoto’s summer tsukemono.
The third Kyotsukemono is senmaizuke. It is made of shogoinkabura (the biggest type of turnip grown in Shogoin in Kyoto). Its color is white like snow and it is very beautiful. Its taste is sophisticated, soft and delicately sweet. The pickling method uses syogoinkabura to full advantage. First, pickle-makers wash turnips with clean water and remove the leaves, the top and bottom portion of the roots, and peel them thickly. Then, pickle-makers plane the turnips and cut them into thin circles. After cutting the turnips into many thin circles, the pickle-makers put them into barrels and sprinkle salt onto each layer. Each slice overlaps the next one to make each layer like a whirlpool. After that, pickle-makers put the lid onto the barrel, put some weights on, and leave the pickles for two to four days. After two to four days, the pickle-makers turn the barrel upside down leave the pickles to drain. The pickle-makers put the turnip slices back back into the barrel in the same pattern with kelp between each layer. Finally vinegar and sweet sake are poured in the barrel. Then, the pickle-makers put on the lid, put on weights, and leave the pickles for two to four days. They will then become senmaizuke, which is often considered as Kyoto’s winter tsukemono. The look and taste is really sophisticated and delicate, and it fits with the identity of Kyoto’s people.