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Living Close to the Veg

August 1, 2016

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Sea Vegetables and Local Specialties

As well as terrestrial veg, Japanese dishes also incorporate a range of seaweeds (perhaps more appetizingly framed as "sea vegetables"). Wakame (sometimes known in English as sea mustard) has thick, chewy fronds that are often used to add nutritional value and a taste of the ocean to various salads and appetizers, as well as miso soup.

Konbu kelp can be found diced and pickled in soy sauce and mirin as a filling for onigiri rice balls, which may be wrapped in sheets of dried, pressed nori (laver).

And in addition to these common-or-garden varieties, all across Japan there are growers who have used careful selective breeding, and taken advantage of local conditions to distinguish their wares, creating a diverse range of premium, "heirloom" vegetables.

Perhaps the best known among these are Kyoto's various kyoyasai (Kyoto vegetables). These include the gigantic, near-spherical Kamo-nasu eggplant; the sweet, succulent Manganji togarashi green peppers; slender, bright red Kintoki carrots and more.

But Japan's heirloom veg doesn't stop there. From the 90-cm-long carrots of Yamanashi Prefecture, to Yamagata's sweet, buttery Utsusawa pumpkin, and the fruit tomatoes of Kochi, Shikoku, there are unique and exciting varieties of vegetable to be found in every region. What better excuse to indulge in a spot of gastro tourism?

Text: David McMahon

Special Features