Traditional pickles that carries down the ancient method
Text: Wakako Sato / Photo: Kaina Honma
The people of Kyoto call the Kamigamo Jinja, 'Kamigamo-san' and has cherished this shrine. It's formal name is Kamowakeikazuchi Jinja. It is said that the great goddess of Kamowakeikazuchi has arrived at the mountain of Kouyama at the north of this shrine.
The pure stream of Narakawa at the eastern side of the shrine is used for purification ceremony during the Aoi Matsuri festival. This stream change its name to Myojin-gawa River and runs through the nearby shakemachi area.
Shakemachi is a residential area of shrine related people such as the priests. The shakemachi of Kamigamo Jinja leaves the traditional architects and is designated as important preservation district of historic buildings.
Suguki Narita is a traditional Japanese pickles shop that is located inside this shakemachi. Their suguki-zuke pickles have been enjoyed by the local people for a long time. It is counted as one of the 3 major Kyoto's pickel along with senmai-zuke and shiba-zuke. Not many people might be aware of what 'suguki' is. It is a rare vegetable leaf that is grown only in this local Kamigamo area.
Suguki-zuke started about 400 years ago. The 11th generation Noriko Narita told me one of the story that the priest of Kamigamo Jinja took back the local suguki leaf to the shrine and pickled it. Then as they started growing the leaf inside shrine's premise, enough amount of pickles were made to be sent out as gift to the related people. The sour suguki-zuke had become a valuable taste during the hot Kyoto summer.
Although the suguki agriculture seemed to spread around the community, Tokugawa Ienari (1773–1841, 11th shogun of Tokugawa) had given out an order that 'suguki shall not be brought out to the other village'. Thus it became a rare vegetable of Kamigamo.
Naritaya started business around the time of this order, but 'it seems that the Narita people had been making suguki-zuke at the shake house for over 300 years before this order' says Noriko. It was originally enjoyed by the upper class, but after had spread over to the commoners after Meiji period. In addition, artificial technique to ferment them inside a building had been invented. Suguki-zuke, once had been the seasonal delicacy of summer, had become a winter pickles.
Today, many pickles shops use this new technique. But Naritaya also continues to ferment their products under the natural environment, in a traditional way that increased the sourness. 'By fermenting it with the natural temperature, a good lactic acid is produced to create original sourness. It is pickled only with salt. It is difficult to determine the right amount. I have carefully learned from my grandfather since childhood'.
Suguki-zuke starts to appear at shops from mid-December. 'It tastes fresh at first, but around Aoi Matsuri season in May, the sourness and its unique tastes starts increasing. Suguki-zuke supports immunizing power as well as to regulate the functions of the intestines. A very good food for women's health'.
The leaf should be chopped small, with the root part slices accordingly. It is sliced thin in summer and thick in winter. Suguki-zuke is offered with 'nanakusa gayu' (porridge with 7 herbs) at January's Hakuba Soran Jinji, new year's ceremony, and with ozenzai (sweet beans porridge) at April's Kamokyoku Suinoen. Suguki matches mochi (rice cake) and sweet beans. If you have a chance to visit the shrine during festivals, please take a shot to enjoy this local taste.
ADDRESS: 339 Kamigamo Motoyama, Kita-ku, Kyoto
OPEN: 5:30-17:00 (Inside second torii gate)
CLOSED: NA (Open throughout the year)
ADDRESS: 35 Kamigamo Motoyama, Kita-ku, Kyoto
CLOSED: New Year