Today, I will be introducing a food called iburi gakko. Iburi gakko is a tsukemono, which are pickled vegetables in Japan. If we break down the meaning of “iburi gakko”, it literally translates to “smoked pickle”. ‘Iburi’ is the Japanese word for smoked, and ‘gakko’ is the way people in Akita say ‘tsukemono’. This is because there is a regional dialect in Akita, so some words are different from standard Japanese.
Tsukemono are very integral to the Japanese diet. These various pickled vegetables are served as a side dish with many meals or are also popular garnishes for Japanese food. Iburi gakko is pickled daikon radish, but it is different from other tsukemono. The thing that sets Iburi gakko apart from other tsukemono is the fact that it is smoked before it is pickled!
Iburi gakko is a food that originates from Akita prefecture (specifically in the city of Yokote), which is in the Northern part of Japan. Because of the cold climate in Akita, they have a special way of preserving their pickles. The vegetables are washed, tied together, and then hung in special shed where curators of Iburi gakko use apple, chestnut, or cherry wood chips to smoke the vegetables. After smoking the vegetables for a few days, the outsides become darker and at this time they are pickled in a mixture of rice bran, raw sugar and salt for a couple of months.
Since Iburi gakko is smoked before being pickled, it gives the food a very crisp and distinct smoky taste. This gives it a deeper and richer taste than normal tsukemono. It also tastes different from other kinds of pickled radish, such as the popular “takuan” radish, which has a very tart taste. Iburi gakko is unlike any other tsukemono available in Japan. As you chew iburi gakko, the smoky and rich taste fills your mouth, along with an enjoyable crispiness of the pickle.
Iburi gakko goes well with tea, wine, and Japanese sake. Recently, in some bars it has been put on the snack menu along with a caption saying that it goes well with cheese. It is also popular to eat sliced iburi gakko with some cream cheese spread on top. It is a very versatile food and can be enjoyed in many different situations.
Iburi gakko has been an important part of the diet for the people of Akita for a very long time. This is because in old times when there was heavy snow, people could not leave their homes to get food. Thus, iburi gakko became very important for the people of Akita. They were able to get their nutrition they needed from vegetables through this tsukemono. However, there was also a problem with pickling the vegetables at first. From late autumn to early winter, the days are very short in Akita, which means there is little sunlight. This makes it hard to dry vegetables before pickling. Thus, people started to smoke the vegetables before they pickled them to cope with this dilemma.
In recent years, there are fewer houses that have hearths or sheds to smoke and pickle the iburi gakko. This means the number of producers of iburi gakko has also decreased, as it is hard to make them at home. They have now become known as specialty products and are mainly produced by tsukemono shops that have special facilities to smoke pickles. Since there are fewer places that produce iburi gakko, it is hard to find outside of Akita. However, if you happen to be in Akita you can pick it up at many souvenir shops and local supermarkets! If you have the chance, you should definitely try iburi gakko and experience a taste like no other!