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Sansai, Mushrooms, and Seaweed

Assortment of sansai

Sansai is the name given to wild edible plants in Japan. They are believed to have health benefits and are popular in the Japanese cuisine, or washoku.

Sansai (literally translated as ‘mountain vegetables’), is the name given to wild edible plants in Japan. They are believed as  having health benefits, and tend to have a characteristically bitter taste. They’re popular for use in the Japanese cuisine ‘washoku’ too. Their availability depends heavily on the season and when they can be foraged, although nowadays many types are successfully cultivated on farms as well. The same is true for various types of mushrooms and seaweed.

Seasonal foraging

Tsukushi (field horsetail)

Spring is when many vegetables are ready for harvest, including: 

  • Tsukushi (Field Horsetail): cooked or glazed and used as a side dish or rice topping
  • Udo (Japanese mountain asparagus): somewhat similar in appearance to white asparagus, it  is often sautéed, pickled or marinated
  • Takenoko (baby bamboo shoots): often cooked and eaten with rice

Other popular ways of cooking sansai include pickling it,  or marinating it  in miso or deep-frying it in tempura batter. 

Autumn is generally the best time for mushrooms, the most prized variety of which is the fairly rare ‘matsutake’ (pine mushroom). These are often eaten grilled or steamed with rice. Other popular types include enoki, eringi, maitake, bunashimeji, and the well-known shiitake mushrooms.

Matsutake mushrooms on rice


As an island country, seaweed has long since been a part of the Japanese diet. These sea-grown treats are rich in minerals and fibre, and are commonly used in all kinds of dishes. Some of the favourites are:

  • Nori: used for wrapping sushi or as garnish
  • Kombu: most often used to make stock
  • Wakame: ingredient in miso soup or salad, or eaten as a side dish

    Wakame drying

    Sansai, mushrooms and seaweed are very popular in Japanese cuisine for their seasonality, rich flavours, and supposed health benefits. They are also commonly used in shojin ryori, the strictly vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. Though many of us outside of Japan will have tried some types of seaweed and mushrooms, sansai are much harder to find. So make sure to discover your favourites when visiting Japan!

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