Iburi-gakko (いぶりがっこ) is one of the foods that you "must" try while traveling in Akita. The name might not be familiar, but we are sure you would recognize this:
Tsukemono, or "Pickled Things" :
Pickled vegetables are called tsukemono in Japanese. They are served regularly almost with every meal and play a significant part in our Japanese cuisine. The "pickled things" accompany almost any type of dishes in various occasions — with rice and miso soup, as a condiment of a rice ball (e.g. umeboshi, pickled plums), as a palate freshner served with sushi (e.g. gari, pickled gingers), as a garnish for okonomiyaki (e.g. benishoga, red slices of pickled gingers) and the list continues…
Akita's Unique Culture of "Pickled Things":
Iburi-gakko is basically a type of takuan (pickled daikon radish) ; but what makes them distinct is that they are smoked before pickled !
In Akita, "tsukemono" are called “gakko”. Iburi-gakko literally means “smoked and pickled things”. Akita's winter climate - humid and low temperature with a large amount of snow- nurtured this distinctive technique of preserving vegetables. The culture of pickled vegetables is seen in the whole region and among all generations. Believe it or not, traditionally, these salty vegetables are even served as tea accompaniments!
Many different kinds of pickled vegetables are found in Akita Prefecture.
Most typical iburi-gakko is radish but, in recent years, you could find that of carrots aw well. The vegetables are hung inside a specially designed shack, where cherry or apple logs are used to smoke the vegetables. After a few days, the vegetables develops a darkened colored on their skins; that is when they are finally pickled in a mixture of nuka (rice bran) and salt.
A producer in San-nai area in Yokote City.
This technique is passed down through generations, but the number of iburi-gakko producers are declining, so that it is becoming more difficult to find them. That is why you must not miss a chance to try iburi-gakko! Typically, Fukujin-zuke is served as a garnish of curry and rice plate; however, Aigake Jindai Curry replaces it with iburi-gakko!
Photo Courtesy of Aigake Jindai Curry.