If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you may have wondered what the little red or brown pickles were on the side. These are fukujinzuke, a type of condiment made of vegetables that is often served as a side dish to accompany rice or other savory dishes in Japan.
Unlike most Japanese pickles (tsukemono), fukujinzuke is not fermented. It is instead pickled. It is most commonly made with Japanese radish (daikon), eggplant, lotus root and cucumber which are marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and rice vinegar. The marinade not only adds flavor but also helps to preserve the vegetables.
Fukujinzuke is often served as a side dish with rice, including curry rice, and is also used as a topping for dishes such as udon noodles and oden. It is also commonly used in bento boxes, because the vibrant red colour, which is achieved by using red chilli pepper, adds a fun pop of flavor and color to the meal.
Fukujinzuke dates back to the Edo period in Japan, when pickling was a common method of preserving food. For a condiment, the name ‘fukujinzuke’ has quite an auspicious meaning. The word "fuku" (福) means good fortune in Japanese, and "jin" (神) means gods, while "zuke" (漬) refers to pickling. This name reflects the belief that consuming the pickled vegetables brings good luck and prosperity.
The origins of the name fukujinzuke are equally as intriguing, with several stories having emerged to explain it. One story says that it is named after Shichi Fuku Jin, the seven lucky gods in Japanese mythology. The shop which first created this dish was said to have been located near the temple where people came to worship the gods. “Shichi” (七) means seven in Japanese, thus the original dish is said to have been made up of seven different vegetables.
The next time you find this rather inconspicuous pickle on your plate, I hope that you also find some extra luck in your life.
About the author:
Ailsa van Eeghen
Ailsa has been living in Japan since 2015 all the while enjoying the rich beauty of Kagoshima prefecture. She finds the most joy in exploring little villages, driving around the countryside and exploring the lesser known parts of Japan. Keenly interested in Japan’s regional diversity, you can often find her at michi-no-eki admiring all the local produce. You can find more of her travels and deep dives into Japanese culture on her Instagram @daysofailsa where she writes about her life in Japan.
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