Ingredients in Japan: Fruits & Vegetables

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

fruitCurrently in season (November – December): persimmons and mikan.

Most fruits and vegetables go by their English names written in katakana: for example, avocado is called アボカド (abokado), so it’s easy to ask for or recognize them. In other cases, I have included the Japanese name.

There are so many fruits and vegetables that this page is kind of overwhelming. Also, I still sometimes come across fruits or vegetables that I’ve never seen before in Japan, so if you’re wondering about something that you don’t see here, leave a comment and I’ll let you know!

FRUIT
apple: common all year, ranges in price from cheap to expensive. In season in fall and winter. Japanese: りんご, ringo.
apricot: uncommon but available in summer; also sold dried
avocado: common all year round
banana: common and cheap year-round
berries: expensive and seasonal; strawberries and blueberries are available in summer. Strawberries are sold in December because they are popular at Christmas. Other berries are rare or unavailable.
cherries: available in spring and summer. Usually two varieties: American, which are called チェリー, cherii, and Japanese, which are 桜ん坊, sakuranbou.
citrus: There are many types of Japanese citrus, most of which are not found in other countries. Many are seasonal and sold in winter. Some common types are mikan (similar to clementines), yuzu, kinkan (kumquats), dekopon, kabosu, and sudachi. See this article for more.
figs: available in summer. Japanese: いちじく, ichijiku.
grapefruit: often available, especially in winter
grapes: seasonal; available in fall and winter. Many varieties are sold, but most of them have seeds and thick, hard-to-digest skin, so they must be peeled. Japanese: ぶどう, budou.
kiwi: usually available
lemon: always available; price varies
lime: quite rare, but can be found at certain supermarkets
mango: seasonal
melon: several types available, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and winter melon, especially in fall and winter, but expensive
nectarine/peach: available in summer, generally expensive. Japanese: 桃, momo.
orange: Western-style oranges are sold, but native Japanese citrus are more common (see above).
pear: Western pears are sometimes available. “Asian pear”, called nashi in Japanese, is quite different, but is available in summer.
persimmon: seasonal and cheap in October-November. Japanese: 柿, kaki.
pineapple: usually available; price varies
plum: available in summer; Western type is called プラム, puramu, while the Japanese variety is called 梅, ume.
pomegranate: occasionally available (though expensive) in fall/winter. Japanese: ざくろ, zakuro.
quince: common in fall. Japanese: かりん, karin.

Other fruits are sometimes available seasonally. I have seen dragonfruit, akebi, and loquats (Japanese: biwa).

Vegetables
artichoke: have not seen
asparagus: available year-round; price varies
bamboo: bamboo shoots (takenoko) are sometimes available; menma is a kind of fermented bamboo used as a ramen topping.
beet: have not seen
bell pepper: usually available. Japanese: パプリカ, papurika.
bitter melon: usually available. Japanese: ゴーヤ, gouya.
bok choy: usually available. Japanese: ちんげんさい, chingensai.
broccoli: available year-round but price varies a lot depending on the season
brussels sprouts: available seasonally in winter. Japanese: 芽キャベツ, mekyabetsu.
cabbage: always available and usually cheap. Both Western cabbage and Napa cabbage (Japanese: 白菜, hakusai) are sold.
carrot: available year-round. Japanese: にんじん, ninjin.
cauliflower: sometimes available; always expensive and often not good quality
chili pepper: hot peppers (tougarashi) are sometimes available fresh, but more commonly dried. The most common kind of pepper is shishito, which are usually sweet, but occasionally hot.
corn: fresh corn is available for a time in the summer, but even at the cheapest it is expensive (rarely under 100 yen / about $1 per ear). Japanese: とうもろこし, toumorokoshi.
cucumber: available year-round; cheap in summer
eggplant: usually available. Japanese variety is smaller than Western. Japanese: なす, nasu.
fennel: have not seen
garlic: always available. Japanese: にんにく, ninniku.
ginger: fresh roots are always available and cheap; myouga, a related vegetable, is also common.
green beans: sometimes available; more expensive than in the U.S. Also available frozen. Japanese: いんげん, ingen.
greens: many varieties are sold, but many are unique to Japan or Asia. Spinach is always available (Japanese: ほうれん草, hourensou), as are arugula (rukora) and a few types of lettuce. Mixed salad greens are also sold. Common Japanese greens include 春菊, shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves), mizuna (used in nabe or salad), komatsuna (similar to spinach), mitsuba (similar to parsley), nanohana (similar to broccoli rabe), and nira (garlic chives).
leek family: Long green onions, or naganegi, are common and available year-round, as are the smaller konegi (green onions). There are several similar varieties, such as rakkyou (Chinese scallions), which are often pickled.
okra: sometimes available
onion: available year-round. Variations (red onion, shallots) are hit-and-miss, but are sometimes sold. Japanese: 玉ねぎ, tamanegi.
peas: snow peas are usually available. Green peas are not common. I have seen bagged frozen green peas at only one place.
potato: available year-round. Japanese: じゃがいも, jagaimo.
radish: small red radishes are sometimes available. Giant white radish, or daikon, is always available.
rhubarb: have not seen
root vegetables: Besides daikon, renkon (lotus root) and gobou (burdock root) are always available, as are taro, yamaimo and nagaimo (types of tubers).
rutabaga: have not seen
soybeans: available fresh seasonally; always available frozen. Japanese: 枝豆, edamame.
sprouts: daikon sprouts (kaiware), mung bean sprouts (moyashi), soybean sprouts (toumyou), and broccoli sprouts are common year-round. I have sometimes seen alfalfa sprouts as well.
squash: the most common type is kabocha, similar in taste to butternut squash. Zucchini is sometimes available in summer.
sweet potato: Japanese sweet potato is quite different from Western sweet potato. It is yellow inside with purple skin, and both sweeter and more starchy.
tomato: Usually available, but expensive in winter. Cheap and more widely available in summer.
turnip: sometimes available (white and red varieties). Japanese: かぶ, kabu.

There are many other specialty vegetables that are available for short times during the year, for example, romanesco, fuki (butterbur), and yurine (lily root).

Frozen fruits & veggies
Unfortunately not nearly as popular as in the U.S., probably because of lack of freezer space. You can usually find broccoli, corn, kabocha, spinach, and green beans. For fruit, I see blueberries most often, but sometimes strawberries and mango.

Dried fruit
Commonly available: apricots, figs, mango, persimmons, pineapple, prunes, raisins, and tomatoes. Others are sold at import stores or specialty shops.

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Coconut Cashew Curry

IMG_7439I’m always trying out new recipes for curry. This is my latest one, and we really enjoyed it. It ended up being very flavorful and a good, inexpensive, filling dinner that included plenty of leftovers for the next day’s lunch. I sometimes leave out the chicken or replace it with tofu, in which case this recipe is vegan.

Ingredients
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped tomato (canned diced tomato is fine)
3/4 cup cashews, divided
2 cups (480 mL) vegetable broth (chicken would be OK too)
2 to 2-1/2 cups vegetables of your choice, sliced or chopped into bite-size pieces
2 chicken breasts (optional – leave out or replace with cubes of 木綿/firm tofu)
1 can coconut milk
1/2 tsp each cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, fennel, and kaffir lime powder**
1/4 tsp each cayenne pepper, allspice, cinnamon, and black pepper
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cornstarch (optional; see recipe)
Rice for serving

* Vegetables: really, you can use whatever you like here. I always use what I have on hand or what is on sale or in season at the moment. Some of my favorites are asparagus, green beans, zucchini, carrots, and… daikon, which is great in curry and has a similar taste and texture to potato when cooked.

** Kaffir lime powder is a seasoning I found here in Japan but have never seen elsewhere, so i don’t know how common it is. You can leave it out, or add a little extra lemon or lime juice if you like instead.

Instructions

Heat the vegetable oil in a 2 or 3 quart saucepan. Saute the sliced onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes until the onion is translucent, then add the tomato. Cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring frequently, until the tomato has broken down and most of the juice is gone.

Meanwhile, toast the cashews in the oven or in a dry pan over medium heat on the stove.

Let cool for a few minutes, then scrape the mixture into a food processor or blender. Add 1/2 cup toasted cashews and some of the vegetable broth (depending on how much your appliance can hold) so the mixture will blend. Process until smooth.

Return to the pot with the remaining vegetable broth and heat to a simmer. Add any vegetables that need time to cook (for example, daikon, carrot). Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the sliced chicken and coconut milk and stir. Simmer for about 10 more minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Add the spices and lemon juice and mix well. If the curry is not thick enough, you can add the cornstarch, mixed with a tablespoon of water, and cook for two to three minutes until thickened.

Taste and add salt if necessary (it depends how salty your broth is).

Serve over white or brown rice, with the remaining 1/4 cup toasted cashews sprinkled on top!

Sukiyaki

sukiyaki8Sukiyaki is a famous Japanese dish. It is in the category of nabemono, dishes that are often cooked and eaten communally at the table. Sukiyaki is made with beef and a sweet soy sauce base. It’s especially good in the winter. The beef and other ingredients are often dipped into beaten raw egg before eating. It may sound strange to Americans, but try it once before you decide! In Japan, eggs are very safe and often eaten raw or half-cooked.

Ingredients
80mL (1/3 cup) soy sauce
3 tbsp sake
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

thinly sliced beef
shirataki noodles
negi (long green onion) or leek, sliced diagonally
yakidofu (grilled tofu) or firm tofu
greens (in Japan, I like mizuna, shungiku, or komatsuna; in America you can also use napa cabbage, spinach, etc.)
mushrooms (shiitake, enokitake)
udon noodles

eggs (optional)

Instructions

Mix the soy sauce, sake, sugar, and water together. (Note: In Japan you can also buy pre-made sukiyaki sauce.)

Heat a frying pan on a stove-top burner. Add a little oil, and add some sliced beef. Let brown, and then add some sukiyaki sauce. Next, add a little of each ingredient, cover, and let cook until the ingredients are done.

If you want to eat the sukiyaki with egg, each person can take one egg and crack it into their bowl. Then, each person can take what they like from the pan and place it into their bowl.

This cycle can be repeated until the ingredients are gone. Finally, you can add udon (thick wheat noodles) to end.

Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad

This pasta salad has a really nice Asian flavor, and is really delicious hot, warm, or cold! Original recipe is from allrecipes.com, but I’ve adjusted it to be more healthy (less chicken, more veggies, and less oil).

Japan Note: Bow-tie shaped pasta is not very easily found in my area (though I have found it at an import store). I have substituted rotini or ziti shapes with success. Though spaghetti is definitely the most common Western-style pasta here, I’m not sure how well it would work in this recipe.

Ingredients
1/4 cup sesame seeds
16oz (454g) bow-tie pasta
1/4 cup (60mL) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80mL) soy sauce
1/3 cup (80mL) rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1-2 cups steamed veggies, cut into bite-size pieces (I like snow peas, broccoli, and carrots)

Instructions

Spread sesame seeds in a dry pan and toast on low heat until fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn.

Cook pasta as directed on package and drain.

Whisk together oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, ginger, and pepper together and pour over pasta. Mix in chicken, green onion, and veggies. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

This pasta salad is good hot or at room temperature. If you can give it a little time to marinate, it’s even better, as the pasta soaks up more of the dressing.