Chirimen sansho is one of the most popular souvenirs from Kyoto. The combination of sweet and spicy dried young sardines (chirimenjako) and spicy Japanese pepper (sansho) is perfect as a side dish with rice or as a snack with alcohol. Chirimen sansho is sold in many stores in Kyoto.
Sansho buds sprout in spring, and these young buds are called "kinome" and are used in simmered or grilled dishes, kinome miso, vinegared dishes, etc., to enjoy their fragrance. The buds of trees are an ingredient that reminds us of the coming of spring.
The small yellow flowers appear in April. It is known as hanasansho, and the leaves are picked up together with the flowers. This is used to make "sansho leaf tsukudani." In May, the bright light green "sansho berries" becomes available. The season for sansho berries is short, so they are usually eaten while they are still soft, either as tsukudani or chirimen sansho.
In Kyoto, there were few opportunities to eat fish raw, and the custom was to preserve it by tsukudani, preservable food boiled down in soy sauce. On the other hand, berries of sansho are plentiful in Kyoto. In Kyoto, most of the area from the Chutan region to the Nantan region is mountainous. The Katsura River and other large and small rivers weave their way through the mountains from the Tamba Mountains. As a result, the area is blessed with riches from the mountains, and sansho trees have been growing wild everywhere since ancient times as well, and have been popular as an ingredient to accent dishes. It is said that chirimen sansho originated when chirimenjako was boiled in soy sauce and sake, a new culture representing a combination of the Kyoto people's temperament and climate.
On the other hand, chirimenjako are caught all year round in the seas around Japan, and there are two seasons in a year when they are at their best: spring and autumn. Chirimenjako is a general term for young sardines, mainly Japanese anchovy, Japanese pilchard, and round herring. Among them, Japanese pilchard spawns in the south of Japan from February to March, and its young are caught in the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific coast from March to early spring.
I hope you will enjoy the changing of the seasons with chirimenjaya and sansho. We also recommend you serve chirimen sansho on Ichiyougama's Plate or preserve tsukudani in Noda Horo's Enamelware. Both are available at our store, so please have a look!
Noda Horo's Enamelware