Day 29: Tsukemono
Tsukemono literally translates as ‘pickled things’ and it’s a pretty simple and accurate description of what we’re talking about. Tsukemono is a broad category for the small bits of pickled vegetables that you’ll see all the time in Japanese cuisine.
The most common vegetables that are pickled in this style are turnip, white radish, cucumber, and cabbage but it’s also possible to find things like onion, ginger, ume plum, and eggplant.
It took me a while to realise that I was seeing tsukemono pop up all the time. Those little bits of vinegared ginger that you get on the side of a sushi plate are an example.
All the small bits of vegetable in the corner of a bento box – that’s another.
Often tsukemono come as a small addition to a main dish, like those examples I mentioned. But it can often also be ordered as a separate item. That’s usually the case in places where you’re sharing lots of small meals or at the bar-style restaurants where the pickled goodness goes quite well with a few beers.
I had this small plate of tsukemono at a restaurant in a town called Takasaki, northwest of Tokyo.
I ordered a main meal as well but felt like a bit of extra flavour on the side and this is what the waitress recommended. It cost an extra 300 yen (US$3.05) for the plate.
Tsukemono is not the kind of thing you would go out specially looking for and, as I mentioned, quite often it will appear at your table without you even realising. But it is something you could also ask for at many places if you felt like something nice and cleansing to go with your meal.