Japanese Food: Lighter Fare for Spring Weather
Written by Ruby Regina Benigno
In Japan, the cherry blossoms are slowly waking up from their winter slumber and making everything so light and pretty. The Japanese are picnicking in the parks and along the rivers where they can enjoy cherry blossom viewing or hanami (花見) with their loved ones. With the changing of seasons, there is also a change in one’s lifestyle.
A common change is one’s diet. Since spring brings warmer weather, the food tends to be lighter. Beef and pork are a little dense, so fish and tofu become the popular protein of the season. Although fish might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are different types to suit your taste or to slowly wean you into possibly liking it.
From March until July, you will see unagi (ウナギ) or freshwater eel in the supermarket and at the restaurants. Unadon (鰻丼) is a popular dish in which the eel is cooked with tare—a sweet soy sauce—and served on top of steamed white rice. The taste is similar to teriyaki but a little more nuanced since the smokiness from the charcoal grill, where the unagi cooks, adds some depth. Another great dish is unakyu which is a sushi roll with unagi and cucumber. If you’re a newbie to fish, this is a delicious dish.
For the more adventurous eater, you can try marinated squid or ika no okizuke(いか の 沖漬け). Ika no okizuke roughly translates to “squid off the sea”. It is usually raw firefly squid (hotaru ika/ホタルイカ) that is marinated in sake and soy sauce. The bitterness of the squid balances with the sweetness of the sake to make for a salty yet sweet appetizer. In the picture to the left, it is paired with unakyu and sanshoku dango (tri-color rice cake). I had the pleasure of experiencing it when I went out with my female coworkers for a joshikai (女子会) or girls night out. It definitely tastes better than nattou (纳豆) or fermented soybeans.
If you’re like me who loves sashimi, then you will enjoy tai or red snapper. The fish is very flaky and delicate. The taste is not as fatty as salmon and not as meaty as tuna. It’s very light and refreshing. Just be careful when you buy tai because it looks similar to izumi dai (tilapia). The difference between tai and izumi dai is the flakiness and the less fishy taste of the red snapper.
Hopefully, these dishes pique your interest into trying fish and not frighten you! It is totally understandable if you pass on the squid. Happy Spring!
About the blogger: Hello everyone! My name is Ruby, and I am a native Chicagoan who has just returned from a year in Japan. I fell in love with the Japanese food culture when I began exploring the Kansai region during my time as an assistant language teacher for the JET Program. I’m proud to be a blogger for Kokoro Care Packages where I can share some tidbits about Japanese culture, food, and travel. I hope your care packages and reading the blog posts will inspire you to visit Japan one day.