The concept of Konbu Tsukudani is a little hard to explain, since it’s a food category that doesn’t really exist in the West: a topping for white rice. As you may know, in Japan rice is usually cooked entirely plain, without even salt. Instead of flavoring rice as you cook it, as is done in the West, we usually add flavor to plain white rice by topping it with something intensely flavorful (or, if we’re making Onigiri, by stuffing it inside).
Intense certainly describes the taste of Konbu Tsukudani – a powerful mix of sweet, salty and umami. Usually I buy the ready-made kind in Japan and bring it, but I recently ran out. So, I decided to make some from scratch. Turns out, if you can get dried sea kelp, it’s easy.
In fact, Konbu Tsukudani is delicious even without rice. Probably the simplest way to enjoy tsukudani is to just eat it on its own, as an accompaniment to green tea: something intensely sweet and salty to heighten the flavor of the tea.
This typical Kyoto recipe is a simple way to make fresh, home-made pickles (what we call “otsukemono” – 漬物 - in Japanese) in as little as 12 hours. It’s great as a “chopstick vacation” – a tiny side dish to contrast with the flavor of the main dishes.
As my mom is from Kyushu, this isn’t something she would normally make at home. However, I remember Senmai-zuke very well from growing up near Kyoto, and I always liked it. The image of Senmai-zuke displayed in front of the pickles stores is something which always reminds me of Kyoto.