Thursday, July 26, 2018

Searching for Umeboshi - Chinriu Honten's Pickled Plum (Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture)

Umeboshis are pickled and dried Ume fruits, usually referred to as green plums, and very popular in Japan. Some are aged in salt-filled barrels for 1 to 3 years before consumption. More like apricots than plums, Umes are Japan's sourest fruits so one needs to get used to it to appreciate it. In the olden times, samurais used ume as energy boosters. 

Meanwhile, umeboshis are usually served as side dishes for rice (for added flavor) and rice balls (onigiri). They are extremely sour and salty that when I was offered a platter of Umes, I couldn't stop distorting my face when Umeboshi touched my tongue. I didn't mean to offend. I just wasn't ready for the acidic taste in it.

But I am getting ahead of myself, am I not?

First, I had to look for Chinriu Honten, a specialty shop selling Umes and Umeboshis in Odawara. The shop specializes in three product varieties with Ume, red Shiso or Sakura cherry blossoms as main ingredients. 

It was established in 1871 by the last chief cook of Odawara Castle - Monya Komine. Today, the company is managed by Takako Komine, a fifth generation Komine who married Nicolas Soergel, a French-German national whos helping out to manage and market the specialty shop, taking the business to a contemporary clientele. 

Finding it wasn't as easy. I sought the help of Odawara Tourist Information Center at the train station for the direction. Even with that, 'her English translation was limited. The old lady from the center eventually wrote the shop's name in Japanese characters, making the search a lot faster. Still, this took awhile. 

From the eastern exit of the station, facing the main street towards Sagami Bay, I took the stairs to the right, and down to ground level (not the underground shopping mall). I crossed the street and asked further. A beautiful black lady saw the struggle I had and offered to help translate my predicament. Chinriu Honten was just 3 shops from where I was asking. "You mean, you came all the way from Tokyo to find ume?" Her eyes lit up with a smile. 

There were no English signs outside. There should be if it wants to entertain foreign customers. I stuck my head inside and asked if this indeed was Chinriu Honten. I looked around first, then I was offered a platter containing different types of Ume preparations (green plums) prepared differently. 

Acquired Taste

Umeboshi was extremely sour and salty. I could savor a fruity flavor though mostly, it's hard to describe. It is an acquired taste. I had to beg off from buying a whole set. I realized it was what I came for, but hey, I've tasted a piece. I was happy with it. Most 150 gram Umeboshi costs 1,500 yen. My sweetened Ume (dried with honey) cost only about 700 yen. It looked like one of those dried mangoes from Davao (see photo). 

I was grateful that despite my inquisitiveness, the staff were accommodating and hospitable. I felt honored to be in the presence of a 147 year old establishment with a lot of history to their trade.

After visiting a castle and a Japanese beach, tasting the Ume completed my Odawara experience. The visit was spur of the moment. Sometimes, the best adventures are those not overly planned because you're bound to get pleasant surprises. 

This was a sour and salty surprise. 

My ume was honey-dried. This isn't the popular umeboshi but a variety of the delicacy. Not sure how it is exactly called.

They remind me of those dried mangoes from Davao.

If you pass by this shop, could you tell it's an Ume shop?

Chinriu Honten is in this building, just across the train station.

Pickled, salted Ume fruits are wrinkly and very salty/sour. This photo from

Ume fruits are more like apricots than plums. This photo from

No comments: