Summer in Japan is marked by fireworks festivals, trips to the beach, and a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients cooked into dishes that help you beat the summer heat. Read on to discover Japanese summertime ingredients.
Japanese Pumpkin (かぼちゃ)
Japanese pumpkins have a smooth and fluffy texture and taste like a combination of sweet potato and pumpkin. They are usually simmered with the skin still left on, and their sweet taste pairs well with the saltiness of soy sauce.
Bitter Melon “Goya” (ゴーヤー)
Goya, or bitter melon, is a superfood grown most notably in Japan's southernmost tropical islands of Okinawa. It's rich in a range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Several Japanese recipes, including the popular Goya Champuru, neutralize the extreme bitterness of the gourd so that you can enjoy its numerous health benefits.
Japanese Ginger “Myoga” (ミョウガ)
Japanese ginger, or myoga, has a refreshing, zingy quality and is usually eaten as a garnish, sliced very thinly. Myoga is used to season many Japanese summer dishes, such as cold tofu, chilled somen (thin wheat noodles), or chilled soba noodles as a delicious and crisp alternative to green onions.
Japan, a country known for its cherry-blossom trees, also reaps the bounties of delicious cherry fruits in the summer. Yamagata prefecture is the largest cherry producer. Compared to American cherries, Japanese cherries have smaller pits, are juicer, and feature a delicate balance of sweet and sour.
More than just refreshment, watermelons are an iconic part of Japanese summer. On Japanese beaches, people regularly have parties where they hit the watermelon like a piñata. The partygoers hit the watermelon with a baseball bat while blindfolded until it breaks and can be enjoyed by everyone.
Peaches in Japan are larger and softer than the peaches in most other countries. They are known for their pale pink or white flesh and delicious sweet taste. The Tohoku region of northern Japan is known for its large peach production. In the summertime, you can also find many desserts featuring peaches or peach flavor, including peach jelly, peach mochi ice cream, and peach tarts.
Named for its slightly sweet flavor, ayu has been a prized summer fish in Japan for thousands of years. It is a specialty most often associated with Gifu prefecture. This small, tender freshwater fish is typically enjoyed flame-grilled and sprinkled with salt. You can often see it cooked on a stick outside of traditional restaurants in Japan.
Another classic summer fish is unagi, or freshwater eel. Typically eaten fileted, char-grilled, and glazed with a sweet and savory sauce, this crisp-but-tender fish is said to help beat summer fatigue.
Abalone is a luxury ingredient that traditional female divers in Japan have fished for since ancient times. Its flavor is naturally buttery and salty, and it can be consumed raw, steamed, boiled, or simmered in soy sauce. Both the Boso peninsula in Chiba and the Ise area of Mie prefecture specialize in abalone, and late summer is the best time of year to enjoy it.
About the author:
Jessica Craven is a writer, artist, and designer passionate about introducing aspects of Japanese culture to English-speaking audiences. Previously, she studied Japanese traditional art forms and Japanese art history at Akita International University, worked in art museums and galleries in the United States, and returned to Japan to work in Saitama for five years on the JET Program. She is fascinated by how traditional Japanese art forms, like tea ceremony, are also closely related to philosophy and health. She currently lives in Tokyo, where she is continuing her writing career.