Tsukemono making is very prestige profession in Japan
As the winemaker feels almost an artist, in Japan it is similar to the makers of pickled vegetables tsukemono. The tsukemono producers deal with their products with the same care and love. In the ranking of social admiration, they can achieve similar prestige as excellent world winemakers. It is no coincidence that at the world famous food Nishiki market in Kyoto the one highest socially positioned gentleman is tsukemono maker. I had the honor that Mr. Utsu invited me upstairs to his office above the tsukemono shop years ago and showed me several of his life awards. The highest were from the Japanese emperor himself. Orders of the rising sun. In the beautiful frame was also an award that his father received from the emperor too. The father made tsukemono too, and so did his father. Making great tsukemono is like a mission that reaches out to the nation. This is because tsukemono is the important partner to rice and rice is like a sacred dish in the hearts of Japanese people. Rice is symbol of survival. It is understood as a gift from Gods. When you lay on the table all the beautiful dishes with many delicacies in front of guests during a high cuisine kaiseki meal dinner, the container of rice, pickeled vegetables and soup will be located in the foreground. Japanese tsukemono just isn’t a Znojmo cucumber you put on the edge of your plate. It’s a gem.
Tsukemono is a great hobby
I remember, when one day, Mr. Machida, who had redone the cover of our tatami in Miyabi twice, took me to his dear friend, who lost his mind for tsukemono. I understood that just as winemakers fall in love with their work, those who once look into the secrets of pickled vegetables will indulge in their hobby. The gentleman in the mountains of Mie Prefecture had several low dark buildings in the shape of greenhouses, full of ceramic vessels of various loads, each with an interesting scent. It is not for nothing that pickled vegetables are also called oshinko, okóko or kónomono – something that generates aroma. The gentleman was very proud of his tsukemono and accompanied me from pot to pot telling me what was loaded here and there and how the inside material behaved. At that time, I remembered my long-held dream of making pickeled vegetables for Miyabi myself. Twenty-five years ago it was. I even bought Czech ceramic containers for pickling cabbage. I still have them in the basement. Not used. So I am thinking now I should start. In the present „Take away only“ time, it’s the right time to experiment. And when the borders are open and foreigners are welcome again in Japan, I will go to Japan and become apprentice in some tsukemono shop.
Various forms of pickling
So how do I get started with tsukemono? Definitely I can do tsukemono, which is loaded into salt. It’s a shiozuke. It is suitable, for example, for quick softening of cucumbers. Especially in the cucumber season in summer. When you add rice vinegar and maybe a little sugar, you have suzuke. This is how you pickel carrots, daikon, kabu, kohlrabi, red radish and other similar vegetables. It’s great to put vegetables into miso, then it’s misozuke. Eggplants, onions or leeks are suitable for this. Of course, soy sauce does a good preservative job too – that’s shouyuzuke. More difficult handling is when you choose to pickel vegetables in the rice residue after sake drips out. Sakekasu. They have plenty of sakekasu in Japan, but the question is, how to get it here? As a product, sakekasu is simply not imported into Europe. Likewise nuka, means rice bran, is not imported. But we can make nuka ourselves, we simply grind out the skin from unground rice. I brought the nuka to Miyabi from Japan several times already and guided my chefs what to do with it – how to mix it every day and set the temperature and…. but in the end they ended up with rotten stinking material. We didn’t trust the fermented vegetables in it too. Certainly we didn’t allow ourselves to offer them to our guests. The chefs always threw it away in the end. They also threw away the mass I created in the inspiration of nuka – I used crushed dark bread and beer. I had some experience with this. I prepared this kind of nuka in Turkey, when I wanted to have a Japanese tsukemono, but there was nowhere to buy it. They had bread and beer in Turkey, so I tried. I paid close attention to my product. I felt love for him, but even so, I sometimes had to throw away my products. A great way to pickel vegetables must be koujizuke. Zuke – pickeling while using rice that contains kouji mold. It is mold which can turn rice into amazake – a sweet rice drink that looks like sake, but does not yet contain alcohol. In the city of Iga, the old seat of ninja fighters, you can still find one shop where they sell kouji as their only product. Their kouji is grown on straw in a kind of old shed, which is part of the house. They showed it to me. In case they modernize the shed, they will lose the mold and so they never intend to do it and will continue to grow lovingly their family kouji and successfully sell it. I brought their kouji to Miyabi, but I don’t have it anymore. We made amaze from it. And the amazake was drank by our guests.
Tsukemono is very good for our health
You may be wondering why I praise tsukemono so much? Because it is very important for our good health. Fermented products are increasingly admired and popularized. Our grandmothers knew how good it is and that’s why there were always quick yeast cucumber and pickeled scabbage and all sorts of other goodies in the households. But today we forgot somehow about the gifts of pickeled food. In Japan they have not forgotten, there it is still a very important part of the diet. I can’t even imagine how rice would taste without umeboshi plums or takuan pickled radish. In Miyabi we prepare asazuke tsukemono for you – lightly pickeled carrots, daikon and cucumber and fukujinzuke, where there are also beets and eggplant. And if I become a tsukemono mania, and it may happen, we’ll soon in Miyabi have another tsukemono on the menu. We have good need for it, as we put tsukemono in every obento box – a box where everything that forms one whole food is. By putting in tsukemono we care about the health of our guests. We know that the digestive tract only works well if it has suitable environment, and such can be made by the pickeled vegetables supplying the intestines with what they need.