Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pickled Daikon and a whole lot more...

'scuse my rough and horrible Japanese.
Ever wonder what that bright yellow squishy thing is on your plate at a Japanese restaurant?

No? Well, if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you'll certainly be wondering when you see it on your plate in Japan. Daikon (だいこん、大根), a massive radish, is essential to Japanese cuisine. Originally the radish itself is white, over a foot long, and topped with leafy greens. The leaves find themselves in salads and are sometimes sauteed. The radishes become a host of delicious ingredients in food and adorable garnishes aside classic dishes (or... plush toys...).
Being the complete and utter Japanophile that I find myself to be, I have fallen in love with pickled daikon and took it upon myself tonight to make たくわん or yellow pickled daikon. Pickling is an excellent way of preserving food, obviously found in many cultures. When I told my family I had the intention of making pickles, they informed me that we were out of cucumbers. In Japan, pickles are not usually cucumbers. They come in almost any vegetable that can be brined and tubbed. Some of the more famous pickles include pickled plums (ume, うめぼし, the pinkish thing on the image above), mushrooms, cucumbers(usually in a soy sauce brine), and cabbage(often fermented, pictured behind the bright yellow in the photo above). たくわん is often used as a garnish on plates of sushi, served with other pickles in a plate of おしんこ(which just means pickles, as shown above), or in larger ふとまき rolls shown here.

Takuan has been made in Japan the same way for centuries. It's manufacture is primitive, but effective. One takes the crop of daikon for that spring, leaves it out to dry in the sun for a few days until it's shriveled up a little and then tosses it in a giant vat with rice bran, salt, a little bit of sugar, konbu (dried kelp, also used to make udon broth), and sometimes a sliver of tumeric root for color. This method of pickling is not the only one found in Japan. Pickles can also be made with a mixture of soy sauce, mirin (a cooking sake), sake, sugar, or just plain rice vinegar. Often daikon and carrots are shredded and lightly pickled with rice vinegar for a light side salad. A good takuan is prized in Japan and often up for sale in expensive Yahoo!Japan auctions.
When food was hard to come by in World War II, Japan had quite a few pickles to fall back on. Families kept large vats of ume or takuan in their cellars and other places that helped the family cope with food shortages (pickles are a known appetite supressor) and add a little bit of flavor to their meals. The daily ration of rice could be spiced up with a couple pieces of hidden takuan in the center of an rice ball, おにぎり. In the film Grave of the Fireflies the main characters make a point to hide a large vat of ume in their cellar during the constant airraids in their area. The plums stay with them for most of the movie. They provide nutrition for the two boys and the family that takes them in, although the tasty plums are quickly eaten.
I'm off to make my own set of pickled daikon! I hope I manage to master the tangy crisp tenderness that a true rice bran takuan from 日本 has!
Holy Text Wall, Batman! There's your crash course in Japanese pickles. Eat 'em with pride!


  1. so how did your pickles turn out? did you color them with tumeric into that nice yellow too?

  2. they turned out a little mushy -_-;;