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“Sansai”, Springtime Wild Greens in Japan!

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

↑ Japanese people enjoy “Sansai picking" in the mountains in spring! Blessings of the mountains with limited time! Hello from Japan Culinary Institute, and welcome to JCI's blog for those looking for an opportunity to learn about Japanese cuisine and culture in Japan! Japan is a country of four distinct seasons, and each season brings a variety of seasonal vegetables, fruits, and seafood to enjoy. When learning about Japanese cuisine, it is essential to understand the most delicious ingredients during the season, and JCI strives to teach this knowledge in great detail. In particular, Japanese people have long looked forward to the blessings of the mountains, "Sansai," or mountain greens, with the arrival of spring. Unlike vegetables grown in the fields, they are unique in rustic nature and have a distinctive aroma, texture, and bitterness. Here we introduce some of the spring wild vegetables and how Japanese people prepare and enjoy them, including the local cuisine of each region! Let's learn about spring mountain delicacies together! Table of Contents 1. About "Spring Sansai" Names and variations

2.Local dishes to Enjoy Spring Wild Greens


1. About "Spring Sansai" Names and variations

↑ Fukinoto(Butterbur buds) In Japan, Spring weather brings delicately flavored wild mountain greens and edible buds and shoots. Japanese people call them “the taste of spring.” If you happen to travel in Japan during spring’s annual rebirth, we hope you will explore just sakura blossoms, but the variety of ever-changing regional cuisine featuring these spring mountain greens. There is truly no better way to explore Japanese spring cuisine than with Sansai. Here are a few names of those springtime Sansai we would love you to try cooking with us! Fukinoto(Butterbur sprouts, photo above) Butterbur sprouts peek out in the mountains in early spring when the weather is still freezing. The pale green shoots surrounding the flower buds of the butterbur (described below) are picked and eaten. The Japanese enjoy its unique bitterness as a savory delicacy. It is chopped and stewed with miso to make a bitter miso relish, which is then served with rice or as an accompaniment to sake. Tempura is another popular way to eat them.

Fuki(Butterbur stalks)

The long stalks of Japanese butterbur have a juicy texture similar to celery or rhubarb. The long stalks have hard streaks, which should be carefully removed. Butterbur has an inherently bitter taste, pre-treated by rubbing with salt and then boiled to reduce the sharp taste. Fresh butterbur is delicious as tempura, but it is also good to eat the stems cut into bite-size pieces and simmered in dashi and mirin (Japanese soup stock and sweet cooking sake) or soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Takenoko (Bamboo Shoots)

↑ Takenoko (Bamboo Shoots) head out of the soil! Takenoko(Baby of Bamboo in Japanese) are bamboo shoots that have just emerged from the ground. It is a wild vegetable characterized by its crunchy texture and freshness. It is considered a delicacy, especially in spring, because the time to eat freshly dug bamboo shoots is short. The rest of the year, you can only find takenoko pre-cooked or canned. Fresh takenoko can be simmered with water with a bit of nuka(rice bran), then sliced up to eat on salads, batter and fry them for tempura, or cooked with soy sauce, sake, and sugar for a nimono(simmered) dish. Bamboo shoots are used in various vegetable dishes, but flavored takenoko rice is a quintessentially spring dish. Zenmai (Royal Fern or Flowering Fern)

"Zenmai" grows in moist, shady forests. Zenmai means coil in Japanese. The name is derived from the shape of the spiral leaves. The young leaves, still tender, are harvested in early spring and boiled in water before use in cooking. The tender stems are boiled quickly in salted water and served with a simple seasoning such as soy sauce. They can be stir-fried with soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil, cooked with takenoko and other vegetables, or mixed with rice. Easily gathered in the mountains of many regions of Japan, zenmai are an essential part of the Japanese spring table. Yama Udo (Mountain Asparagus)