Sunday, February 7, 2010


I've always been a pickle-eater. Family legend has it that when I was a baby, and the very opposite of a picky eater, someone urged my mom to try me on a pickle. Now my mom hates pickles, so I had never encountered one before, and I can only imagine how she might have brought herself to find one and feed it to her firstborn child. Well, suffice it to say that she did, and I ate it, and I've been eating pickles happily ever since.

Japanese pickles aren't quite the same as the dills and bread-and-butter pickles I grew up with, naturally, but they're just as captivating. There are numerous types of pickles. One of the most basic, shown above, is applied to all kinds of vegetables, from skinny Japanese eggplants to orange pumpkins, and is just a basic, slightly sweet brine, similar to the makings of a dill pickle only without any herbs or spices (though sometimes yuzu peel is added, giving it a citrusy fragrance, or maybe some bits of red hot pepper, giving it a kick).
Much more pungent is the Nara-tsuke, a specialty of western Japan, which involves marinating vegetables in a miso paste concoction until they're completely unidentifiable and almost inedibly sweet and salty. The texture is crunchy but with a faintly gelatinous spring; the thin slices have the richly-colored translucence of stained glass. They're so strong that they have to be eaten in very small quantities, usually together with a lot of rice.

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