While every country and region has their own special seasonal foods, few places really celebrate the change in seasons in the way that Japan does. Not just in markets and stores, but across restaurants and even convenience stores you'll see menus change based on the season. Here are some foods you can cook and buy in Japan as the season changes to fall.
One of the most common home cooking and comforting foods in the fall in Japan is chestnuts (kuri). While boiled chestnuts can be a special treat, for me the number one sign of fall is the abundance of kurigohan (chestnut rice) popping up in grocery and convenience stores. Kurigohan is a sure sign that the weather is
getting colder and the leaves are falling.
You'll also find chestnuts in steamed egg pudding (chawanmushi) or montblanc desserts, making kuri an iconic flavor for the season.
Japanese Sweet Potatoes (Satsuma Imo)
If you’ve spent time in Japan in the fall, you might be familiar with a certain high pitched whistle. This is the telltale steam whistle of a yaki imo (baked sweet potato) cart.
Sold by whole or half, you can buy a freshly baked sweet potato for taking home or eating on the street. There is something so simple and wonderful about a cool fall day and a freshly baked sweet potato.
If you're lucky enough, you might hear that whistle moving, with the call of “Yaki-imo!” Much like an ice cream truck, the yaki-imo truck drives around neighborhoods tempting everyone with the siren-call of freshly baked sweet potatoes.
Japanese Pumpkin (Kabocha)
Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, is another savory fall favorite that can be served up any number of ways, but the one that stands out to me is kabocha no nimono (simmered kabocha). This dish is a quick and easy to make at home, and in the fall, you can find it everywhere at convenience stores and grocery stores. I like to have it with my lunch bentos as a sweet, tasty, and filling side to help me make it through the afternoon. Just simmer your cubed kabocha with dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar until the kabocha is soft, but not mushy. This simple dish will warm you right up and keep you going through the cold days.
What is perhaps my favorite fall food is oden, which is a kind of simmered dish
with a variety of different ingredients. While this can be eaten all year round, there is something special about finding oden when it returns to the front of the convenience store near the checkout. You’ll often see ingredients like fish cakes (chikuwa), daikon radish, hard boiled eggs, konnyaku, and many other ingredients that hold up well for long simmering. When you buy it, you get a cup with the broth and your choice of the ingredients, with each one costing about a dollar or less. You can make traditional oden or a western version easily at home.
All of these fall dishes are relatively easy to make at home, so why not give them a try and see if you’ll find a new staple for the fall months.
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!