Seasonal Delicacy in Northern Japan: Mountain vegetables
“Let’s pick Japanese horseradish (Mountain wasabi)!” Our little journey started with this abrupt proposal. In Japan, especially in the northern part, there is a habit of eating freshly picked mountain vegetables at the start of spring. Compared to ordinary vegetables, mountain vegetables are more flavorful, bitter, and full-bodied. Recently, the high nutritional value of mountain vegetables is attracting more and more attention. Among many types of mountain plants, Japanese horseradish is rarely seen on the market as it only grows in a clean aquatic environment.
Entering the mountain
Take a drive about 30 minutes from Akita Airport following Iwami River, paved paths disappear and the gravel starts to lead us into the forest. The gently flowing Iwami River on the left and densely leafed forests on the right jump into my eyes. I feel my heart beating faster.
Our Stroll in nature
Stepping out from the car, we trudge on the path surrounded by coniferous forest. The sunlight glittering through the leaves of trees flicker on our faces comfortably. On the roadside, a small waterfall appears, and the chilly water refreshes our mind instantly. Fuki (Petasites japonicas) and butterbur sprouts along the path, and the frog spawn floats on the puddle buoyantly. Spring has come. After walking for about 2 kilometers, the streetscape changes dramatically; we find ourselves surrounded by leafless broad leaved forests. Suddenly, the fear of bears runs through my head. Tightly grasping the toy gun in my hand, I rushed through the path.
Picking mountain vegetables
Walking along the path for about another 1 kilometer and passing through a big curve, our view finally widens. Behind the seemingly barren land, appears the full picture of the serene river. Yes- this is where the Japanese horseradish grows in clusters. At first glance, the field looks like a devastated dry land with drift timbers. Upon looking closely, however, the leaves of horseradish with tiny lovable flowers pop up here and there. Carefully tracing the roots, I started picking radish like a little child.
Preparing our lunch
Sitting on a rock by the riverside, we cut up the freshly picked mountain vegetables with the knife we had prepared. Surprisingly, the leaves of the radish are also edible. Boil the water, parboil the plants briefly, take them out, and finally, put the rice. Comfortably listening to the sound of the stream and bathing in the sunlight, we wait until the porridge is ready.
Lunch by the stream and under the sun
Shortly after, our lunch, the rice porridge garnished with boiled mountain vegetables and a pinch of salt, is ready to be served. Surprisingly simple yet fulfilling, the taste of spring instantly spreads in our mouths after just one spoonful. The Japanese horseradish is nice, pungent, and very fragrant, unlike those processed ones sold in supermarkets. It was so delicious that I asked for refills twice. Before I knew, the obsession with the fear of bear disappeared, and I found myself engrossed in savoring the food and returning to nature. I felt the most primitive instincts arising inside of me- a feeling that have been lost in the daily lives surrounded by inorganic space and convenient appliances.
A unique experience
Out of the way, appreciating the blessings of nature and Spring with all our senses; something that can only be experienced in this place. Knowing the presence of bears can indeed be scary, but adds to the adventurous taste of the trial. I brought back the rest of the mountain plants and made seasonal dishes, wanting to enjoy the taste of spring for as long as it can last. Written by Ryoko H.