Aki no aji are the unique Autumn flavors.
Autumn in Japan is a special time. The food takes a big leap up in quality compared to Summer because the plants are shedding their bitter flavor and ripening perfectly.
Even the seasonal fish are oilier and fattier than the previous seasons.
Matsutake is a highly sought after mushroom with a rich aroma and flavor. It’s used in a lot of Autumn dishes to add a ton of umami.
One of the most amazing ways to enjoy this mushroom is in a dish called horokuyaki. Where the mushroom is cooked on a hot stone inside an earthenware pot with the top on it. It sort of sears while also baking, and then slightly steaming.
Kuri is chestnuts. They are often eaten steamed or boiled. But most often you’re going to see them pop up in dishes during the Autumn.
A very common dish is the steamed rice and red bean dish, kuriokowa, where the two ingredients are paired with kuri — often in a rice cooker.
Satsumaimo is sweet potato. In Japan, you’ll often see it baked, or steamed, and eaten plain. There are some satsumaimo farms that produce the most incredibly sweet satsumaimo.
You’ll also see it sliced thin and used in tempura too. Or even mashed and used in a variety of traditional Japanese snacks.
Samma is saury. It’s a blue fish with a sword-like shape. It’s considered an Autumn fish because in the cool months it puts on some fat and becomes oilier — adding to the flavor.
You’ll likely see it salted and grilled — and if you enjoy fish, you’ll love this style of cooking. It’s crispy, juicy, and oh so full of flavor.
You’ll often see it topped with daikon oroshi (grated daikon radish) and soy sauce.
Saba is mackerel. It’s a real strong-smelling fish that loses its freshness quickly. So it’s often made with salt and vinegar to keep fresh longer.
A popular dish using saba is shimesaba. It’s sashimi but instead of eating the freshly sliced fish it’s prepared over the course of hours using a combination of salt and vinegar.
It is eaten raw, but not freshly raw — if that makes sense.
On the flip side of saba is aji. Aji is horse mackerel. No relation to a horse obviously.
It’s not a smelly fish and is often eaten as sashimi or sushi. But you’ll also see it on the menu at an izakaya, usually as ajifurai (fried aji).
Next Page: Fuyu no aji (冬の味)