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Editor’s Notes

Hello, this is Pocket Concierge Editorial!
With the advancement of farming technology, we today are able to eat a variety of ingredients throughout the year. However, the ingredients peaking at each period of the year, for example the season’s vegetables, are the best for both flavor and aroma, as well as for a sense of a season’s arrival. In this article, our editorial delves into traditional ‘kaiseki’-style Japanese cuisine, its seasonal qualities, and its classics, plus an in-depth review of the best greens to try during spring!

Contents

1. Spring; the Calendar Definition

2. Wild Japanese Mountain Greens; How Many Can You Name?

3. The Flavors of Spring; Tempura Reigns Supreme

4. The Traditional Clear Soup ‘Osuimono’, and Scents of Spring

1. Spring; the Calendar Definition

When exactly is “spring?” Although a lot of us think spring is the April-June period, according to the traditional calendar, it is actually from February to April. The Japanese solar term is the basis for this; we divide the year into 24 parts, giving each season 6 to further divide the year. This solar-based system is still commonly used around the agricultural industry, and is the main way we know what traditional events happen when. For reference, we have provided below the six solar terms that fall into spring, from the beginning to the end.

Risshun: The beginning of Japan’s traditional calendar, and spring
Usui: The time when the snow melts, and turns to rain
Keichitsu: The time when the insects, and nature in general, comes awake from hibernation
Shunbun: The day the length of the day and night becomes equal
Seimei: Originated from a word, shoujyoumeiketsu, which means ‘purified, natural’
Kokuu: The period when the crops begin growing

In the same way, ‘kaiseki’ cuisine, whose ingredients take well from the season, is also strongly reliant on these natural periods; February–April is “spring,” May–July is “summer,” August–October is “fall,” and November-January is “winter”, so if there is a particular ingredient you would like to have, be sure to check its peak out!


“Kaiseki” Fuji | Pocket Concierge

2. Wild Japanese Mountain Greens; How Many Can You Name?

Below, we have lined out some of the wild greens one can enjoy in Japan during spring.

◆ Tara

A shrub about 2-4 meters in height, this is the bud of the Japanese angelica tree.
There are both natural and cultivated ‘Tara’, but most of the sprouts found in supermarkets are cultivated.

◆ Shidoke

Also called ‘momijigasa’ (maple leaf umbrella), this weed looks similar to the maple leaf.
Its flavors are quite strong and unique, making this one ideal for those who enjoy the taste of wild vegetables.
The stem can also be eaten, and is commonly used in dishes such as ohitashi (a dish where vegetables are marinated in a sauce of Japanese broth and other sauces such as soy sauce).

◆ Udo

Udo can be separated into two varietes; mountain udo, and white udo (udo that has been cultivated in a dark room just like bean sprouts).
This sprout is often served dressed with vinegared miso post-preparation, through which a chef removes the ingredient’s astringent taste.

◆ Seri (water dropwort)

One of the ‘seven spring sprouts’, seven grass-like plants considered best eaten in spring, this vegetable was named ‘seri’ (“bit” in Japanese) as it grows as if the sprouts are competing with each other.

◆ Warabi (bracken)

A type of a fern, ‘warabi’ has the strongest bitterness amongst the wild vegetables introduced.
Furthermore, this green has slightly poisonous properties, and as such the removing of such thereof is necessary via methods such as leaving in baking soda overnight.
Despite the toil involved, the natural flavors and scents of this herb, as well as its grandoise form, makes this leaf a hit with many a gourmet connoisseur.

There are many wild vegetables in Japan, and the above are just some of them. This abundance of natural grace has given birth to a unique cuisine, the ‘tsukamigusa’ (literally, picked-wildgrass) cuisine, which uses such wild weeds, leaves, and vegetables found on roadsides or untouched mountains. While the backdoor-style appeal is obvious, do be sure to have professional judgement; some wild sprouts are poisonous, and literally eating what you pick could cause serious concern.


Tenmasa | Pocket Concierge

3. The Flavors of Spring; Tempura Reigns Supreme

Some may want to try wild vegetables, but hope to avoid the bitterness involved. Look no further! Tempura is the surprising solution to all such wants and needs. The powerful flavors and robust scents of each ingredient come alive in tempura, whilst the frying and condensation of flavor cuts the distasteful elements out. Tempura is often served in ‘kaiseki’ cuisine, especially during springtime, and below are some of our best recommended seasonal ingredients to be had as tempura.

◆ Bamboo shoot

The perennial and classic spring ingredient, the bamboo shoot is as flavorful as it is versatile; it tastes great cooked simple, but just as well with a twist, like in “isobe age”, tempura with green dried seaweed-blended batter, or fried as is with fresh seaweed.
A bamboo shoot called himetake is a treat you can only enjoy in spring.

◆ New potato

“New potatoes” are planted in winter and harvested from the beginning of spring until just before summer.
With thin skin and a high nutrition content compared to fall-harvested siblings, these make for a sublime fried treat, skin-on farmer’s style.

◆ New onion

New onions are sold after drying the harvested onions for about a month. This makes the onions full of moisture to the point you can eat it raw, but cooking too is recommended, as the process will condense the sweetness of the vegetable. Much recommended is new onion tempura; enjoy the moisture and energy of the bulb, a juicy fruit waiting just beyond the crisp batter.

◆ Rape blossom

The best season for rape blossoms is from February to March. The bud, stem, and new leaves are all referred to as nabana (the Japanese name for rape blossoms).
As the weed is packed with vitamin C, this is a great green for the ladies with a high beauty effect.

◆ Firefly squid

Although this is not a wild or seasonal vegetable, this is an amazing seafood ingredient that can be enjoyed during spring. During their this period, the laying period for the species, they arrive en masse to Toyama Bay to create an yearly scene often called the “mystery of Toyama Bay”; as the tiny squid arrive, they glow a light blue, making for a beautiful view. As for recipes, the squid has a special texture, best enjoyed fried at the peak of the specimen’s season.


Ginza Tenharu | Pocket Concierge

4. The Traditional Clear Soup ‘Osuimono’, and Scents of Spring

“Firefly squid” tells us of the arrival of spring in the ocean. Similarly, “clams” too are a must-know regarding spring; for example, on the March 3rd Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Festival), which retains too a nuance of welcoming spring, it is considered luck-raising to consume clams. There is the example of a proverb in South Korea, Japan’s neighbor, which goes “Shells for spring, octopus for autumn,” showing that South Korea also shares a culture of eating shellfish in spring.

In English and Irish, there is a saying that goes: “Only eat oysters in months that contain the letter ‘R’”. It is said that you are advised against eating oyster in May, June, July, and August, lest you bear the risks of food poisoning. Heeding this age-old advice, we should enjoy oyster in fall or winter when it is both safe and delicious.


Kaiseki Marukawa | Pocket Concierge

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