Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬

冬瓜漬: tougatsuke, tougadzuke. The first 2 kanji are 冬瓜 tougan, which is “winter melon” in English. The last kanji is 漬 (usually ‘tsuke’) meaning “pickle” or “preserve.” So the meaning of this term is something like pickled/preserved winter melon.

Tougan is also known as shibui しぶい in Okinawan language. It is a very hearty and cheap vegetable here in Okinawa. The word winter melon is sort of funny, because it is actually harvested in summer, but it is easy to store these and they will last all winter, so hence winter melon.

Anyway,  I recently visited the Jahana Kippan Shop 謝花きっぱん店 in Naha. These shop is the only shop that still makes 2 very famous Ryukuan sweets called kippan and tougatsuke. During the Ryukyu kingdom era, these sweets were enjoyed by the emperor and high ranking nobles as delicacies, one of the 16 types of special fruits and desserts served in the Royal Court. This shop has amazing quality sweets, everything I sampled was so good; since I am a student, my budget was the “imperfect” pieces that they sold in small bags instead of the beautiful perfectly shaped ones.

To make tougatsuke, the juiciest flesh from tougan is used, as well as Okinawan sugarcane. There are no preservatives or artificial flavors here, just natural food made in the same style as the Ryukyu kingdom era. It is amazing that a simple tougan is turned into this sweet concoction! They recommend keeping it chilled, slicing thin pieces, and serving with tea or dessert wine. It is hard to describe the exact flavor– it was very sweet, and a little juicy, sort of melts in your mouth. An excellent pairing with some green tea.

Update: I later purchased the shiqwasa flavored tougatsuke and it is also delicious. I sampled the Okinawan sugarcane rum flavor in the store as well, and it was nice with a hint of rummy flavor.

Address:Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo 1-5-14

Winter melon: 冬瓜

冬瓜 tougan in Japanese, シブイ shibui in Okinawan means “winter melon.”

Many Americans buy tougan thinking it is a watermelon… and then are very surprised. I guess it kinda looks similar, but not really. Tougan is another staple in Okinawan recipes.

Tougan is harvested in warm weather, but is able stay good for many months, so it is basically a year-round vegetable here.

Many people add it to stews or soups; I especially see it added to miso soups to make them more hearty. The vegetable itself can be a bit watery, and does not have much taste by itself, but it will soak in the flavors it cooks with. Also it is fairly cheap, making it popular here in Okinawa.

There is even a delicious Ryukyuan delicacy made out of this vegetable: Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬. I recently visited an amazing little Ryukuan sweets shop that served this tougan “candy.”

Shibui-no-hi シブイの日 (Winter melon day) is on April 10th. They decided this by using “shi” from shibui, 4, and “tou” from tougan, 10. So 4/10, April 10th, is winter melon day.

I will find some more recipes and add them, but here is one to get started:

Tougan no shiri-shiri (Shredded winter melon salad) 冬瓜のシリシリー: シリシリー shirishiri refers to the way the tougan is cut, basically to shred. It is common style in Okinawa; often you see carrot shirishiri, but today, we can use it with tougan.

Tougan, ~400g shredded
1/2 cucumber shredded
*optional: fake crab, shredded
salt, 1 teaspoon
shoyu, 2.5 teaspoons
sesame oil, 1 tsp
vinegar, 3.5 teaspoons
sugar, 1/2 tsp
ra-yu ラー油 (type of chili oil) 3 drops or to taste
sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon

Peel wash, and shirishiri (shred) with a slicer. Add the tougan to a bowl and salt, let it sit and then drain to get some moisture out. Add cucumber (and the crab if using), and combine the seasonings, mixing well. Chill and serve.