Where are the cherries in Japanese cuisine?
- Michelly Jan 12, 2012 09:02 AM
I always see artwork depicting cherry trees loaded with blossoms as indicative of Japan as maple trees are for New England and palm and coconut trees are for Hawaii and the Carribean.
So why do I NEVER see any cherry desserts in Japanese restaurants? Yes, they'll have green tea and/or red bean ice cream, sometimes in mochi, sometimes straight up, but when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I am amazed when the dessert choices include moltern chocolate cake and apple strudel (!!) I know they get these from a dessert supplier, but WHY are they serving them? After spending a meal of sushi, udon, rice, tempura, all eaten with gara and wasabi using chopsticks and downed with saki, I would NEVER sit back and think "Now...the APPLE STRUDEL!"
I'm thinking more of a couple steamed rice cakes with cherry sauce.
I found the following information on a website dedicated to Japanese cultural history:
"In fact, wild cherry fruits are not eaten at all in Japan (that is, they are not harvested and sold as produce), but there are still a number of traditional food creations that instead, surprizingly (sic) include the vegetable parts of the the cherry tree. Each spring the flowers are harvested, dried and pounded with rice to make cherry rice cakes or sakura mochi, ordinary mochi cake with a pleasant hint of rosey cherry blossom aroma"
I believe that the particular species of cherry tree that you are referring to has been bred for its blossom not fruit so there are no cherry fruits to make desserts from. Its like the pear trees that blossom in the spring all over the northeast. Beautiful small white flowers that fall off like snow in a breeze, but no pear fruit. I also think what you're seeing is that the western concept of desserts is not a significant part of the typical east asian meal. There is no widespread tradition of ending a meal with a sweet course. That's why you have these western desserts that have been adopted. Green tea creme brulee is awesome though. My expereince is that mochi will be served as a snack but not typically for dessert.
Yes, flowering cherry is a different species. They can bear tiny undeveloped fruit, but nothing worth eating.
The climate would be fine for tree fruit - flowering and fruiting cherries grow in the same climate, as do apples, pears, apricots, and plums-, but the only one you see commonly in Japanese cuisine is the plum. Is the terrain not suited to that type of agriculture? Japan is supposedly one of the top importers of California and Washington cherries. I imagine that as in other Asian countries the fruit is eaten fresh rather than cooked into a dessert.
I once ate some sushi that contained eel with cherry--though it was savory, definitely not dessert.
The comments above are correct that most Japanese cherry trees do not carry fruit worth eating. Yamagata in the north of Japan is famous for cherries that are sold at very expensive prices throughout Japan.
As for apples there are different types of trees and fruit. Yaezakura has very thick flowers, which can be pickled in salt and later used to make tea or sakura rice. Other types are used because of the strong sakura flavor in the leaves, which are used to wrap desserts and sweets. The leaves can be eaten too.
These links will give more information about recipes and production of pickled sakura flowers.
How to make:
How to make sakura tea:
The Japanese cherry blossom tree isn't quite the same thing as a cherry tree. It's bred for aesthetics, not for eating.
Quite a lot of cherries are grown in Yamagata prefecture, and the variety "Sato-Nishiki" is similar to the Ranier cherries grown in Washington state. Some cherries are also grown in Hokkaido, and there are several varieties, most interesting is the Lambert cherry which is a very dark purple, almost black. Both Yamagata and Hokkaido cherries are popular when in season, and usually not so very expensive.