Japanese Food Series: Japan’s premium-quality vegetables
‘Washoku’ refers to traditional Japanese meals consisting of rice, miso soup, side dishes, and pickles. However, in the context of food culture, the term extends to special celebratory meals such as those made for annual events, as well as to etiquette when preparing, serving, and eating Japanese food.
The secret behind Japan’s quality vegetables
Whatever the context, washoku wouldn’t be washoku without the rich variety of produce made possible by Japan’s climate and terrain that stretches long distances from north to south. Four distinct seasons— or five with the early-summer monsoon season — yield diverse produce that are reflected in the cuisine. The varying climates and elevations from one end of the country to the other offer chefs a vast range of regional produce to choose from. Moreover, vegetables grown in Japanese soil owe their excellent flavour firstly to the naturally abundant supply of high-quality soft water, and secondly to selective breeding that has led to improved quality.
Japanese heirloom vegetables
As many as 150 types of vegetables are sold in Japan, including imported varieties that have taken root. Heirloom vegetables from Kyoto, Kaga (Ishikawa prefecture), and Edo (Tokyo), were cultivated long before selective breeding took on, and continue to be popular. Defined as produce grown in the same region by more than three generations of farmers using cultivation methods unique to the area, these native strains heighten the appeal of Japanese produce. Throughout the country, more and more initiatives are underway to preserve heirloom varieties for subsequent generations, a movement that will only gather momentum as more chefs come to taste the difference.
Have you tried some of Japan’s unique heirloom varieties? If not, make sure to do so when you travel Japan.