I adore yuzu. A Japanese citrus fruit. Tart and bitter, citrus-like, tangy and fresh. All at the same time. It looks like a bumpy skinned lemon but tastes like a tantalising, almost indescribable hybrid of grapefruit, mandarin and lime. Wonderfully unique and incredibly refreshing. Yuzu is in season throughout winter in Japan. Traditionally harvested in late November to December. My first discernable taste? Yuzu gelato in a cone. In Niseko. In the middle of winter. Unfathomable but true.
Over the years I have enjoyed yuzu in many different guises. It’s highly fragrant rind is used as a seasoning and flavour enhancer in dipping sauces, marinades and dressings. Sugar is often used to add sweetness to yuzu and counteract its sourness. Delicious jams, jellies and marmalades are prepared using the juice.
But it’s the beverages and liqueurs that I especially adore. From yuzu flavoured sake or yuzushu at our local izakaya Raku to the yuzu inspired mojito and caipirinha cocktails at our favourite Gyu Bar in the lower village. Entry into this Alice in Wonderland-esque bar is through a fridge door. I kid you not.
This year I decided I would not leave Japan without a bottle of yuzushu. I scoured Hirafu village and asked each and every bar tender where I might buy a bottle to take home. No success. Many lost in translation moments I suspect. My almost non existent Japanese more limiting than their English.
Fortunately we had a two day stop over in Tokyo before returning home. Our hotel conveniently located very near Tokyo Midtown. Home to a four storey shopping and dining complex. Described as a city with in a city with a thriving arts precinct, gardens and parks.
I love exploring food halls in Japan. And home and lifestyle stores. In that order. A great way to get to understand and know the culture of it’s people. As expected in the vast food halls I found fresh yuzu and dried yuzu rind. Unfortunately Australia has very strict customs and quarantine regulations and these were not suitable to bring home with me. Fresh (and I suspect dried) yuzu is specifically listed as a restricted import item into Australia.
I also found yuzu dipping sauces and dressings. What I was really after though was a concentrate I could bring home. To recreate those wonderful cocktails. At Dean and DeLuca a very helpful sales assistant pointed me in the direction of a yuzu and honey “jam”. She explained that in Japan this “jam” is used as a tisane to make yuzu tea. Just stir a spoonful of the jam into hot water to make tea or use as a base for a yuzu flavoured drink. With an hour to go before I needed to depart Tokyo for Narita airport I thanked her profusely and purchased my yuzu “jam”. Necessity most definitely being the mother of invention in this instance.
With yuzu jam in hand and hurrying towards the hotel to collect my luggage I chanced upon Sake Shop Fukumitsuya. There on the counter was a blue bottle of yuzushu. Kutsurogino Omborato Yuzu to be precise. Fresh yuzu juice mixed with distilled sake. Alcohol content 20%. Success. My search was over with only a few minutes of Tokyo shopping time to spare.
I declared my yuzu jam and sake as I re-entered Australia. No issues at all. In fact I was waved through. I’m looking forward to tasting the “jam”. I’m sure it will be delicious. Now all I have to do is open my bottle of yuzushu and recreate those cocktails at home.