Eating (and cooking) in season

I come from a large family of packrats, so it’s not surprising that I have mastered the art of buying in bulk and stocking the shelves. When I realized that standard kitchens in Japan — or at least in JET housing — have little storage space and even littler refrigerators, I knew I’d have to make some adjustments.

In Japan, food is closely linked to traditions and culture, which influences both when certain foods are eaten and how they are purchased. Instead of buying large quantities, it is common to shop for groceries several times a week to ensure freshness.

I don’t know about you, but I am still adjusting to this “shop every other day” mentality. And I’m guessing that many FuJETs (myself included) are used to going to the store and finding whatever they might be craving, no matter the time of year. “But I want *insert random food item here* NOW!” Sound familiar?

This can be frustrating at times, but there is an appreciation to be had with how the changing of the seasons is reflected in the foods. This doesn’t just apply to grocery stores, but also to convenience stores. Just check out the snacks available right now, especially the candy — the flavors reflect the fruits found in the produce section.

One of the first steps in making the transition in availability is to find out which foods are available when. This list is from a Japanese home economics book that breaks down fish, fruit, and vegetable availability by season.

Spring

sawara (さわら) – Spanish mackerel [ Picture ]
mebaru (めばる) – rock fish [ Recipe ]
nishin (にしん) – herring [ Picture ]
sayori (さより) – halfbeak [ Description & Picture ]
asari (あさり) – “little neck” clams [ Recipe ]
sakura ebi (さくらえび) – small shrimp
takenoko (たけのこ) – bamboo
asuparagasu (アスパラガス) – asparagus
nanohana (なのはな) – rape blossoms [ Picture & Recipe ]
kabu (かぶ) – turnip
biwa (びわ) – loquat [ Description & Picture ]
ume (うめ) – plum
serori (セロリ) – celery
ichigo (いちご) – strawberries
natsumikan (なつみかん) – Chinese citron

Summer

isaki (いさき) – grunt fish [ Picture ]
awabi (あわび) – abalone [ Recipes ]
maguro (まぐろ) – tuna
unagi (うなぎ) – eel
watariganigazami (わたりがに(がざみ)) – soft-shelled crab
suzuki (スズキ) – sea bass
ainame (アイナメ) – greenling (marine fish) [ Description ]
tomato (トマト) – tomato
edamame (えだまめ) – green soybean
toumorokoshi (とうもろこし) – corn
piman (ピーマン) – peppers
nashi (なし) – pear
suika (スイカ) – watermelon
sayaingen (さやいんげん) – string bean
jagaimo (ジャガイモ) – potato
purinsumeron (プリンスメロン) – musk melon
sakuranbo (さくらんぼ) – cherries

Autumn

sanma (サンマ) – saury [ Description & Recipe ]
sake (さけ) – salmon
saba (サバ) – mackerel
shibaebi (しばえび) – prawn
karei (かれい) – flat fish [ Recipe ]
negi (ねぎ) – green onion
satsumaimo (さつまいも) – sweet potato [ Recipe ]
shiitake (しいたけ) – mushroom
burokkori (ブロッコリ) – broccoli
kaki (かき) – persimmon [ Recipe ]
budou (ぶどう) – grapes
nasu (なす) – eggplant [ Recipe ]
daikon (だいこん) – white radish [ Recipe ]
karin (かりん) – Chinese quince [ Description & Recipe ]
sudachi (すだち) – green citrus [ Description & Recipe ]

Winter

buri (ぶり) – yellowtail [ Recipe ]
tara (たら) – cod
ankou (あんこう) – angler
kaki (かき) – oyster
torafugu (とらふぐ) – Tiger blowfish
madai (まだい) – bream [ Description & Recipe ]
hirame (ひらめ) – flat fish
hourensou (ほうれんそう) – spinach
hakusai (はくさい) – Chinese cabbage
ninjin (にんじん) – carrot
daikon (だいこん) – white radish
mikan (みかん) – mandarin orange
ringo (りんご) – apple
renkon (れんこん) – lotus root [ Recipes ]
satoimo (さといも) – taro root [ Recipes ]
iyokan (いよかん) – Japanese citrus [ Description ]
hassaku (はっさく) – sour citrus fruit [ Description ]

I hope this list helps you navigate the seasons of the grocery store and discover some new ways to cook with Japanese ingredients. Bon appétit, or as a Japanese chef would say, どうぞめしあがれ!

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