Daikon, c. 1910.

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Maid and daikon, c. 1910.

Maid slicing daikon, c. 1910.

Vegetable vendor, c. 1910.

Vegetable vendor, c. 1910, with a cart full of daikon.

“Many historians believe that daikon (Raphanus sativus) originated from the area between Central Asia and the Mediterranean Sea and made its way to Japan via China and Korea over a thousand years ago. There are more than 100 regional varieties of daikon in Japan, ranging in shapes from stumpy to slender and colors ranging from the ubiquitous white to rarer colors such as red and deep purple.

“Today daikon can be grown year-round, but because of Japanese are seasonal eaters, they instinctively know that the best crop is harvested in late autumn to early winter. Easy to cultivate and preserve, daikon has always been an important crop in Japan, traditionally providing rural populations with their only source of fresh vegetables (along with cabbage) in the winter.

“Daikon can be eaten raw, cooked, dried, and pickled. In its raw state, daikon has digestive enzymes similar to natural gastric acids with its fresh, vibrant, and mustard-like sharpness cutting through to help digest the oiliness of such fish as mackerel, and of other commonly eaten Japanese fish.

Tsukemono (pickles) are to Japan’s culinary identity as cured meats and cheeses are to Europe. Every meal that claims to be authentically Japanese must include pickles to accompany the rice. Every conceivable vegetable is used for pickling including eggplant, turnip, scallion, ginger, cabbage, and cucumber but daikon is among the most popular.”

Vegetables: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking, edited by Susan R. Friedland, 2008

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