Anyone who has been to Japan before will testify how amazing and, in most cases, huge the fruit is. On top of that, it’s delicious and doesn’t compare to anything bought in your local UK supermarket. This week, I’ll be showcasing some of Japan’s greatest fruits and even throwing the hiragana in. That way, if you go to a Japanese market, you can read the signs and feel really proud of yourself (well, I certainly did when I last went). It is also important to realise that fruit is commonly given as a gift over there, which will be useful knowledge if you’re ever someone’s guest.
Momo means ‘peach’ and, whilst they are usually imported overseas, are typically available in Japan at a limited time of the year. Peaches are seasonal in Japan and are generally sold in the summer time, with hakuto considered to be the sweetest and most delicious. I’m not sure if it’s the soil or the weather or something else but, for whatever reason, Japan’s peaches are huge! When I was at a station stocking up on healthy fruit on holiday, the lovely lady actually gave me a peach for free. As you can see in the picture above, it came in a little polystyrene basket and sat perfectly in your palm!
Melons are by far the most expensive fruit in Japan and can sell for more than the equivalent of £200 each. It is commonly given as a gift when visiting someone in hospital. The finest and therefore priciest melon is the musk melon, which is exclusive to Japan, but you can still eat it on a budget if you settle for a prince melon at 500 yen.
Just as it is in England, the watermelon is a seasonal summer fruit in Japan. In 2001, the inventive square watermelon made its debut, prompted by the fact that it rolled around when being cut and it would not fit properly in the fridge. This was the birth of fashion food in Japan; perfectly shaped watermelons grown in glass boxes. The selling price is 10,000 yen. A popular summer past time is suika-wari, with a blindfolded person trying to split a watermelon with a bat as others shout instructions at where to strike. To find out whether a whole watermelon is ready to eat, give it a light tap and listen for that dry clear sound.
Everybody who has ever come across anything to do with Japan will know what ichigo are – strawberries. Japan currently has the largest production of dessert strawberries and it is one of the most common and popular flavourings in sweets and desserts. They are grown across Japan throughout the year, from the base of Mt. Fuji to Nyoho and Toyonaka, which are the most famous production regions. There are plenty of strawberry-picking farms dotted around the country, so it’s well worth an unusual side trip next time you’re there! Japan really loves its strawberries.
Plums have been a central part of Japanese culture for centuries, originally introduced into the country from China. The fruit is associated with the beginning of spring, as its blossoms are the first to appear in the year. This occurrence is celebrated in Tokyo, shrines and elsewhere with a plum festival (ume matsuri). The actual fruit is more sour than its western counterpart because it is usually processed in a number of ways before it is eaten. The most popular processed products from plums are, of course, the sweet alcoholic beverage umeshu and umeboshi, the pickled version commonly served with rice.
If you really want the cream of the crop (get it?) you should visit Senbikiya in Tokyo, Japan’s most elegant, top-of-the range and expensive greengrocers. Here, apples the size of a child’s head sell for 2,100 yen (£25) each and a perfectly-shaped melon goes for as much as 34,650 yen (£264.50). It might sound crazy but, even on a slow day, business is good because of the importance placed on the perfectness of the gift of fruit. Anyway, is it really that different from how much we might spend on a box of chocolates, apart from the obvious fact that it’s much healthier?
Congratulations to …
Chris from Manchester, for winning the Memoirs of a Geisha giveaway that ran last month! Your prize should be with you later this week.