Tsukudani is a sweet and salty traditional food made by simmering small seafood, seaweed, or meat in soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. It is a popular accompaniment to white rice due to its strong umami flavour.
Tsukudani is one of the unsung heroes of Japanese cooking. You may have already eaten it without knowing as some convenience store onigiri, such as kelp onigiri, contain tsukudani. Due to its saltiness, tsukudani has a long shelf life and it has been a pantry favourite in Japanese kitchens since the Edo period (1603-1837).
The History of Tsukudani
It is said that the history of tsukudani stretches back to just before the dawn of the Edo period. A feudal lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was in danger in Osaka. He was aided in his escape by fishermen from the nearby village of Tsukuda. Ieyasu was not a man who forgot his debts, so when he later became shogun of Japan, he summoned the fishermen to a small island in Tokyo and granted them special fishing rights. The fishermen named this island Tsukudajima and here tsukudani was born.
Types of Tsukudani
There are over 100 varieties of tsukudani in Japan, and many regions have local specialities. Popular types include kelp, clam, whitebait, and shrimp, but there are many unique regional variations. For example, in Nagano and Fukushima prefectures, tsukudani is made with calcium-rich rice grasshoppers!
Make Your Own
Simply simmer the main ingredient, such as konbu (kelp), in the soy sauce mixture until the liquid evaporates. Some recipes suggest mixing in goma (sesame seeds), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), or dried chili pepper for extra flavor and texture.
While tsukudani is usually served over white rice, it can also be delicious on a cheese bread, over tofu, or in a creamy pasta sauce.
About the author:
Diarmuid is a writer and musician from Ireland, based in Tokyo. When not working on music in studios around the city, Diarmuid can be found in the bouldering gym, at the cinema, or enjoying a cold one in the local izakaya.