Jul 30

Making Japanese Pickles the Washoku Way

in Japan

I am excited to bring you this guest post by Shane Sakata who writes about Japan Travel and Culture at The Nihon Sun. Shane is on her second stint living in Japan. She loves the culture, the lifestyle and especially the food!


Japanese pickles, or tsukemono, really aren’t pickles at all says Elizabeth Andoh, author of Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen. Well then what are they? More akin to marinated vegetables, tsukemono are vegetables and other ingredients that have been transformed in texture and flavor by the application of a brine or pickling medium.

I recently had the pleasure of attending Ms. Andoh’s “In a Pickle” workshop in the Tokyo kitchen of Taste of Culture and learned the ins and outs of making tsukemono from the foremost English speaking expert on Japanese cooking and food. It was a heady and inspiring day that prompted me to head out on a shopping spree for my very own pickle pot (shokutaku tsukemono ki) and some ingredients to see if it really was as simple as Ms, Andoh enthusiastically proclaimed. It is, and deliciously so!

First and foremost, I needed to raid my vegetable drawer and supplement what I had on hand with a trip to the grocery store in Chiba, Japan where I live. Vegetables are easy to procure, and so was the pickle pot but I really needed to put my limited Japanese language abilities to the test to find the ara jio (coarse sea salt) and some of the other pre-packaged ingredients.

The end result were the ingredients and apparatus needed to create Sokuseke-Zuke (Impatient Pickles), today’s subject, and a variety of amazu (brine based sweet & sour) tsukemono.

Sokuseke-Zuke can be made with pretty much any vegetable that you have on hand but I chose the classic Japanese combination suggested by Ms. Andoh which includes cabbage, cucumber, myoga (if you can’t find myoga substitute fresh ginger) and a small optional piece of kombu (a form of seaweed used in the process of making dashi or stock). During the “In a Pickle” workshop a combination of cabbage, carrot, daikon (Japanese radish) and myoga was used to create an equally tasty pickled salad.

Now that you have chosen your vegetables, chop them into uniform paper-thin shreds and lightly toss with the ara jio – just enough so the vegetables start to sweat (about 1.5 teaspoons to 1/4 head of cabbage plus your other ingredients). Lightly toss the salt with your freshly chopped ingredients and allow to rest for a few minutes. The extraction of the brining liquid itself from the vegetables is done by a procedure called shio momi (salt rubbing or massaging), it starts with a light touch and proceeds to some very firm squeezing of the vegetables.

Pictured below is Ms. Andoh demonstrating the shio momi of the vegetables on the day of the workshop

and the results in my home kitchen (right).

Once complete, the vegetables along with their brine are transferred to the shokutaku tsukemono ki or Japanese pickle pot If you don’t have a pickle pot, then substitute any non-reactive container (enamel or glass is preferable) and place a plate, weighted down by some canned goods from your pantry, atop the vegetables so that they are submerged.

It’s that simple, rest the pot on your counter for a few hours or leave it in the fridge overnight (In my case it sat right next to the Asahi Super Dry which, in case you were wondering, is an excellent accompaniment to tsukemono).

After the brining or pickling is complete, give the vegetables a good rinse in cool water and momi them again firmly to remove the water. Fluff the vegetables with some hashi (chopsticks) or a fork and you have some oishi (delicious) Sokuseke-Zuke — one of the easiest tsukemono that you can make.

Mound into small mountains and serve as a side dish to any meal where you might otherwise serve a coleslaw or another salad. Our pickle feast in Japan included, starting from the bottom left in a clockwise direction, a hijiki salad with a goma (sesame) tofu dressing, rice, sokuseke-suke, amazu shoga (pickled new ginger), fukujin-zuke (good fortune pickles) and a combination of amazu pickled cucumbers and carrots.

Our tsukemono feast was the perfect late night summer dinner and was relatively easy to prepare – you should try it sometime!

If you are in Tokyo or Osaka, don’t miss your chance to attend one of Ms. Andoh’s Taste of Culture culinary workshops or market tours. Information on the “In a Pickle” workshop and more about my day with Ms. Andoh along with additional information can be found in A Taste of Culture Through Tsukemono.

Image Credit: Shane Sakata personal collection, used with permission

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly July 30, 2009 at 4:12 am

Wow! I have had pickles on my mind now for quite a while.. I am so going to try this!! :)

Thanks alot of the post FM :) Hope you're well!


Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen July 30, 2009 at 7:11 am

Lovely! I adore Japanese pickles. I made traditional sour pickles this week too. I'd like to try my hand at nukazuke next.


veron July 30, 2009 at 7:30 am

I've been wondering if I could make this at home. Such an informative post and definitely one I am coming back to when I make mine.


Kathy July 30, 2009 at 8:57 am

Yum! Pickles are great. I'm thinking of trying my hand at kimchi next!


Penny July 30, 2009 at 11:52 am

So glad I found your blog! I love Japanese cooking and am intigued by the pickle making process :)


Jenn July 30, 2009 at 12:17 pm

That's neat. I love anything pickled. But Japanese pikcles = yum


lisaiscooking July 30, 2009 at 3:59 pm

So interesting. I've been wanting to learn more about Japanese pickles. Great post!


Hannah July 30, 2009 at 7:55 pm

I absolutely adore pickles, especially japanese-style pickles! I've been meaning to make them for years now… Hopefully I'll run with the inspiration and actually do it this time around. Thanks for reminding me!


tokyoterrace August 1, 2009 at 8:56 am

What a great post! I adore Japanese pickles and reading this made me crave them big time. Also, I love your new header! Beautiful as usual!


krismakes August 3, 2009 at 6:54 pm

My partner and I love pickles. We recently made our own salami's with the help of our friends Italian family (can't wait til they're ready!!!) and we had lunch there and ate some of their melanganie (not sure if spelling is right). There was pickled eggplant, pickled peppers and pickled green tomatoes. Sooo yummy and they kindly gave us their recipe so we can attempt making it at home. When we get around to it I will report back on the results!


Bill Melver June 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm

My cousin in Japan sent me some instant sprinkles that turns ordinary cucumbers into absolutely heavenly “asa zuke” morsels. It is kombu based and is called “asa sei no ___” – sorry, I don’t know how to read or pronounce the final kanji. There are eight 4 gram tubes in one package. Is this product available anywhere in this country?


Thewalnut September 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm

@Bill Melver,

Bill, I’ve seen those packages in several Asian markets for around 1.59-3.99 per package. Best of luck sleuthing them out. P.s. I’m in the midwest so I think you should be able to find them!


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