Summertime in Japan is full of outdoor activities like festivals, fireworks shows and beach parties. The Japanese summer food list is so long, colorful and delicious that it’s very difficult to choose just five of them to savor. That’s why we ended up making this selection of 5 summer food recommendations to help you choose, or to add to your bucket list!
Japanese summers are hot and humid, and nothing keeps you cool and refreshed better than some chilled noodles like zaru soba. Among the various type of noodles that can be found in Japan, there are soba noodles made of buckwheat flour and water. They are kneaded and cut into thin strips, then boiled and chilled in ice water, and finally served with tsuyu, a sauce made of dashi (soup stock) and shoyu (soy sauce) that you can flavor with condiments like wasabi, ginger, green onion and daikon radish.
The noodles are arranged in a bamboo basket or mat that is called a zaru, and the sauce comes in a separate bowl for you to dip the noodles in and slurp them up. The combination of all the ingredients of this meal result in a healthy and delicious dish that is perfect for cooling off in the summertime. Zaru soba is available everywhere in Japan at specialty restaurants, izakaya (Japanese casual drinking establishments), supermarkets and convenience stores, and it’s very common to find them paired with fried food like tempura.
Japanese cuisine places a strong emphasis on quality and seasonality of ingredients. Thanks to that, vegetables production involves careful selection methods for breeding, and application of various farming methods in order to achieve high-quality products. This results in vegetables with deep flavor, excellent texture and freshness.
During the summertime, you will find vegetables like eggplant, bell pepper, goya (bitter melon), edamame (unripened soybeans in the pod), lettuce, Japanese ginger, okra , shiso (Perilla leaf) and tomato. But the real star in this list is the cucumber.
Produced in areas such as the Miyazaki, Gunma and Saitama Prefectures, the cucumber is the perfect food for cooling off during the summer due to its high water content. There are several ways to prepare this crispy ingredient in Japanese cuisine, including Japanese-style pickled cucumber, sunomono (vinegar-based dishes), or can even eat them raw with miso paste or Japanese mayonnaise.
If you go to a natsu matsuri (Japanese summer festival), you will probably find the curious pickled whole cucumber at food stalls. They are surprisingly refreshing and really tasty! If you try it, you won’t regret it.
Speaking of matsuri, another superstar food that you will find at food stalls is our third recommendation: yakitori. Yakitori are bite-sized chicken skewers grilled over a charcoal fire. They are typically seasoned with tare (soy sauce-based sauce) or salt, and the meat can come from a variety of chicken parts such as breasts, thighs, skin, or even internal organs and entrails like liver.
Some of the most popular yakitori are negima (skewered chicken with pieces of leek in between), tsukune (meatballs made of chicken, eggs, vegetables and spices), momo (thigh meat), torikawa (chicken skin), tebasaki (chicken wings) and reba (liver).
This tasty summer delight can be found not only at a matsuri, but also in izakaya (Japanese casual drinking establishments), roadside stalls or in specialty restaurants known as yakitori-ya. Yakitori is even better when you enjoy it along with a glass of beer or nihonshu (Japanese rice wine) after a long day of work.
There is a wide variety of fruits that you can enjoy in the summer, such as Japanese apricot, muskmelon, peach, watermelon, yuzu, grape and cherries. Japanese fruits in general are famous for their high quality and sweetness, but we want to highlight one that is not just admired for its taste, but also for its appearance: the Yubari melon.
These melons are farmed in volcanic ash soil in greenhouses from a small region in Hokkaido called Yubari, and they are considered a luxury fruit in Japan. The top grade of these melons can cost more than $200.00 USD! In order to produce the best tasting and perfectly round melon with smooth skin and a vibrant orange color inside, the farmers give the fruits careful and constant attention, resulting in a piece of art.
The early days of summer (especially in June) are the best times to enjoy the complexity of flavors in this juicy fruit. And if you want to show your appreciation to someone in Japan whom you admire – like a teacher, a boss or a superior – a Yubari melon can also be an excellent gift!
As tea lovers, our list wouldn’t be complete without at least one wagashi (Japanese confections that are often served with green tea), so our final suggestion is mizu yokan. Yokan is a general term for jelly desserts made with azuki (Japanese red beans), agar and sugar that are typically molded into a long rectangular block that is sliced before serving.
Mizu means water, and as the name suggests, mizu yokan is a type of yokan that has a higher water content than the traditional yokan, creating a lighter texture that makes the treat very easy to swallow, and the perfect snack during the summer. This refreshing dessert is even better if it is chilled. Some specialized shops sells mizu yokan inside a bamboo pipe as a limited summertime product, but you can easily find them at supermarkets and convenience stores as well.
If you want to know more options for yummy summer food, then check out our previous lists (part 1 and part 2). We hope to see you soon here in Japan to explore the amazing world of summer delights with us!