As the vibrant hues of summer gradually give way to the warm, earthy tones of fall, Japan undergoes a culinary transformation that is nothing short of magical. The comforting smell of roasted sweet potatoes fills the air, and chestnut-themed cafe menus pop up left and right. But sweet potatoes and chestnuts are only two of the Japanese fall food lineup of ingredients that take over the country.
12 Delicious Japanese Fall Foods
Fall in Japan brings forth a treasure trove of seasonal ingredients and dishes, each meticulously crafted to capture the essence of this breathtaking time of year. Join us on a journey through Japanese fall foods, followed by a trip to the supermarket or your nearest restaurant or cafe!
- Matsutake Mushrooms
- Sanma (Pacific Saury)
- Kuri (Chestnuts)
- Ginnan (Ginkgo Nuts)
- Budou (Grapes)
- Kaki (Persimmon)
- Nashi Pear
- Yaki-imo (Roasted Sweet Potato)
- Nabe (Hot Pot)
- Shinmai (New Harvest Rice)
- Nihonshu (Sake)
1. Matsutake Mushrooms
The revered matsutake mushrooms are the undisputed kings of the Japanese forest. Their distinct aroma and flavor make them highly sought after and an essential part of traditional Japanese cuisine. Matsutake mushrooms boast an earthy, spicy aroma that is unlike any other. Their rich, meaty texture and subtle, nutty flavor add depth to a variety of dishes. They symbolize the season and are integral to fall traditions like tsukimi (moon-viewing).
2. Sanma (Pacific Saury)
Sanma, or Pacific saury, is a migratory fish that travels to Japanese waters in the fall. This humble fish is celebrated for its delicious flavor and affordable price, making it a seasonal staple. Sanma is often salted and grilled whole, emphasizing its natural oils. The crispy skin and tender flesh are a delight, especially with a dash of grated daikon radish and soy sauce.
Sign up for our Tsukiji Fish Market and Sushi Making Tour to sample the season's freshest catch.
3. Kuri (Chestnuts)
Chestnuts, or kuri, are synonymous with fall in Japan. These glossy brown gems are not only a symbol of the season but also a versatile ingredient. From chestnut rice (kuri gohan) that combines its nuttiness with perfectly cooked grains to chestnut mont blanc desserts that showcase their sweet side, this seasonal ingredient lends itself to both savory and sweet creations.
4. Ginnan (Ginkgo Nuts)
Strolling down the streets of Japan in the fall, you might come across the distinct aroma of roasting ginkgo nuts. These pale green nuggets have a slightly bitter flavor that pairs beautifully with various dishes. You'll find them in chawanmushi (savory egg custard) or hidden within fragrant rice, adding a delightful crunch. Ginkgo nuts are typically roasted or boiled, which removes the bitterness associated with their raw state. Once prepared, they make for a crunchy and slightly sweet snack, often enjoyed with a sprinkle of salt.
5. Budou (Grapes)
Grapes are another delightful autumn fruit, especially in vineyard-rich regions like Yamanashi and Nagano. Japanese grapes are celebrated for their exceptional quality and varieties. Japan cultivates numerous grape varieties, including the celebrated Kyoho and Shine Muscat. Kyoho grapes are known for their enormous size and intense, sweet flavor, while Shine Muscat grapes offer a delightful muscat aroma and a crisp, juicy texture.
6. Kaki (Persimmon)
Kaki, or persimmons, are a quintessential Japanese fall food. Their vibrant orange hues adorn trees across the country, making them an emblematic symbol of the season. Japanese persimmons are known for their sweetness and unique texture.
The two primary varieties are Fuyu and Kaki. Fuyu persimmons are crisp and can be enjoyed like apples, often sliced and eaten raw. On the other hand, Kaki persimmons are sweeter and typically enjoyed when fully ripe and soft.
7. Nashi Pear
Nashi pears, often referred to as Asian pears, are another highlight of Japan's fall bounty. These crisp and juicy fruits are a refreshing addition to the seasonal palate and are enjoyed for their taste and versatility. Nashi pears are prized for their refreshing sweetness, which is balanced by a slight tartness. You can enjoy these pears fresh or in various culinary applications. You'll sometimes find them in salads, where their crispness adds a delightful crunch. Nashi pears can also be found in desserts, where their natural sweetness enhances the overall taste.
8. Yaki-imo (Roasted Sweet Potato)
One of the season's most comforting smells is roasted yaki-imo, or sweet potatoes. Street vendors often sell them from trucks equipped with wood-burning stoves, creating a nostalgic and comforting experience for all who pass by. Sweet potatoes also appear in tempura and a range of traditional Japanese sweets.
9. Nabe (Hot Pot)
Nabe, or hot pot, is the epitome of comfort food in the fall and winter. This communal dish is not only warming but also highly customizable. As the temperatures drop, Japanese households turn to nabe, a hot pot dish that brings family and friends together. There are countless nabe variations, but the most popular in the fall include sukiyaki and yosenabe. Sukiyaki features thinly sliced beef, vegetables and tofu cooked in a sweet and savory soy-based broth, while yosenabe is a throw-everything-in hot pot filled with seasonal ingredients.
Oden is a hearty one-pot stew known for its simplicity and rich flavors. This beloved Japanese dish holds a special place in the hearts of locals, offering a comforting and soul-soothing experience during the brisk fall season. It typically consists of a simmering broth, often dashi (a savory fish and seaweed stock), filled with various ingredients that absorb the savory essence of the broth as they gently cook. While the ingredients can vary by region and personal preference, common additions include daikon radish, boiled eggs, konnyaku (a jelly-like yam cake), fish cakes and tofu.
You can try oden, among other comfort foods, on our Osaka Food Tour!
11. Shinmai (New Harvest Rice)
The arrival of shinmai, or new harvest rice, is a highly anticipated event in Japan. Harvested in the fall, shinmai rice is celebrated for its exceptional quality. It's characterized by its tender texture and sweet, nutty flavor that sets it apart from rice harvested in other seasons. Shinmai is typically enjoyed in its simplest form: as a bowl of freshly steamed rice. Its delicate flavor and slightly sticky texture make it the perfect accompaniment to a wide range of Japanese dishes, from sushi and sashimi to tempura and hearty rice bowls. It represents the bounty of the harvest season and the idea of renewal and fresh beginnings.
12. Nihonshu (Sake)
Sake, Japan's take on rice wine, takes center stage in the fall. Sake brewing is closely tied to the changing seasons, making fall a highly-anticipated time for sake enthusiasts. During this time of year, breweries release a special type of sake known as hiyaoroshi. This sake is brewed in the spring and then aged over the summer. It's typically milder and smoother than sake served fresh in the spring, making it a favorite for autumnal gatherings and festivals.
In Japan, the changing seasons are celebrated with gusto, and fall is no exception. From street food stalls and convenience stores to local cafes and restaurants, Japanese fall foods make their mark — and we're here for it!
Want to make the most of the season? Check out byFood's roundup of fall experiences and restaurants with limited-time menus.