Traditional Japanese meals will normally contain rice and pickles, tsukemono in Japanese. Japanese pickles have a long history and were traditionally made in the autumn to preserve food through the winter. Kyoto is particularly famous for its pickles and up until recent times vegetables were washed in the city's rivers and preserved in wooden barrels, which can still be seen stacked against the side of buildings in the northern part of Kyoto near the Kamigamo Shrine.
Japanese pickles are made using salt, brine, soy sauce, sake lees and rice bran and can be easily made at home. Almost any vegetable is pickled in Japan including daikon radish (colored yellow in the picture above), Chinese cabbage (hakusai), eggplant, carrots, ginger, onions, turnip and cucumber.
The most famous Japanese pickle is the ume boshi or pickled plum. When a red ume boshi is placed on a bowl of plain white rice it is known as a hinomaru bento (日の丸弁当) - as it recalls the Japanese Rising Sun flag (hinomaru).
Japanese pickles complement the taste of rice and are eaten both as an entree as well as a palate cleanser after the meal. Some people add soy sauce to their pickles but this may not go down well with some purists.
Japanese pickles make for a great souvenir from Japan and each locality will have its own specialty. For vegetarians in Japan tsukemono are also a god-send.
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