Before visiting, you might not associate your visit to Japan with fruit, but upon departure, it will be one aspect you’ll miss the most.
Japan is an island and like many other islands, importing ingredients, specifically produce, can be cumbersome, expensive and result in great loss of product. While in the US the locavore movement is uber popular and requires a certain amount of intent and energy, Japanese cuisine maintains the locavore lifestyle without any additional effort and it is just a way of life.
Again, without our local friend, Nobu, we would have never experienced the quaint area of Shizuoka Prefecture known for fresh water eel, tea production and strawberries grown in hothouses. Driving through you maybe see cabbage, giant radishes and other greens not indigenous to the states, but under the light plastic tenting are hydroponic systems growing organic fruit. Delicious, amazingly succulent organic fruit.
I had strawberries while in Tokyo at The Fruit Parlor, a small basement eatery under the retail location specializing in rare fruit like the musk melon (up to $250 per melon) and white strawberries (9 for $20). The freshness, taste and texture is unparalleled to anything I have experienced in the states. Of course I tried the famed musk melon sundae with a core of fruit sorbet, freshly whipped cream and rimmed with the juicy fruit, but I heard and saw the miraculous strawberries as well.
On our way to Mt. Fuji, Nobu drove us into the Shizuoka Prefecture for strawberry picking. One pays up front and is given a small plastic tray with two wells, one filled with a white sticky substance reminiscent of frosting or syrup and the other for leftover stems and leaves. And then it begins, 30 minutes of eating as many strawberries as you can. Game on!
Up close, these berries glitter. If they were a car, it would be metallic candy apple red. They literally shimmer in the light. So soft and juicy, you need two hands to pick them off the vine. And then, just like nature intended, you pop them in your mouth. No washing, dirt, or pesticides, just pure, natural berry.
Strawberries are grown hydroponically and organically, meaning that they have a very small carbon footprint and are super healthy.
From this point forward your strawberry taste buds will be forever changed. No strawberry will compare to the 30 minute experience you had in Japan. And while you will try, you will also no doubt be disappointed. The strawberry picking season is December through April.
Even though I can’t get my hands on Japanese strawberries at home, I still enjoy cooking and baking with what is one of my most favorite fruits. Here are a few of my favorite strawberry recipes.