The Easiest Japanese Food

The Easiest Japanese Food

Every once in a while, I discover something in Japan so amazing that I’m compelled to share it with the world. Fortunately, that feeling passes after a few beers, so I don’t actually have to do any work, which I’m allergic to. I’m pretty sure that if I was ever given a job involving something like a shovel I’d break out in hives. I’m not even sure which button you push to make the thing start.

Now, if you were to stop random Japanese people on the street and mention my name, they’d likely reply: Ken Seeroi? Oh, he’s got the sensibilities of an 80 year-old Japanese chef. Either that or, Isn’t he the dude sleeping in the park over there? But I mean, Japanese food, it’s pretty delicious, you know? I even like cooking it, since the end result is more Japanese food, followed by more eating. That’s known as a symbiotic relationship, I think. Whatever. The only problem is I’m a guy, which means that I’m genetically programmed to choose sitting on the couch and dialing Japanese Domino’s over anything involving a pot and stove. All that stirring, jeez. Who’s got that kind of time?

So imagine my excitement when I discovered the easiest Japanese food ever. Really, just try to imagine it. This discovery came in the form of a bottle labeled 浅漬けの素. Yeah, try saying that a few times fast. Rolls right off the tongue. In English, this would be called—-wait for it—-picklin’ juice. Best stick with the Japanese, actually, since it sounds more exotic: asazuke no moto. Don’t worry too much about trying to say it right, since white people are incapable of pronouncing such sounds correctly anyway. Don’t know about black folks, but I’m kind of thinking no there too.

All About Japanese Pickles

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Pickles, the hell. What’s so great about freaking pickles?” Am I right? No? Eh, first for everything. Well, you didn’t properly imagine my excitement either, so there. What I’m describing are called tsukemono, and they’re in no way related to those nasty green things that come in a jar. I don’t care if they’re kosher or not, they taste like somebody put a cucumber in a pot with some dill and an old sock. Who’d want to eat stuff out of a jar anyway? That’s only one step away from a can, until one day you find yourself chowing down a cat food sandwich. It’s a slippery slope, is what I’m saying. Whatever. Japanese pickles taste amazing. Let’s just leave it at that.

How to Make Japanese Pickles

Somehow, I’d always assumed, because of their extreme level of deliciousness, that Japanese pickles were hard to make. But actually, they’re butt easy, if you’ve got the magic picklin’ juice, that is. Right on the label of the bottle, it lists the steps, 1, 2, 3, in Japanese. Allow me to translate.

1. Cut you up some vegetables
2. Put ‘em in the picklin’ juice
3. Shake ‘em around a while
4. Wait 30 minutes.

See? Easy as 1,2, 4. Who ever said Japanese folks were good at math? And I bet you didn’t know they spoke with West Virginia accents either. Well, they sure do if they’s makin’ theyselves some picklin’ juice. Mmmboy they do.

Healthy Japanese Food

Now, some of the more health-conscious readers might be tempted to ask, But Ken, aren’t pickles a little high in sodium? To which I can only reply, Hell yeah they are. That’s why they’re called pickles, and not, I dunno, Moon Pies. They’re supposed to be salty. What am I, a cardiologist? Just snarf down a banana or a sweet potato or something; that’ll balance you out. Plus, any time you’re consuming a vegetable which is not a pizza topping, it’s healthy by default, so quit yer worryin’ and get to picklin’.

How to Eat Japanese Pickles

Well, you put them in your mouth, that’s a good start. Then start masticating. No, not that. You’ll never get any vitamins that way. I was going to insert something here about masticating with cucumbers, but it seemed a bit crude, so I won’t. Ken Seeroi, exercising self-restraint since 2014.

In Japan, tsukemono are a side dish. They work well with just about anything you’d serve with rice. They’re also eaten as an appetizer to accompany beer or sake, as a healthy alternative to, in my case, Calbee’s potato chips. Coincidentally, they also go remarkably well with Calbee’s potato chips. Put a slice of pickled carrot between two chips and it’s like you’re having a vegetable and salt sandwich. Doesn’t get much better than that.

The Bad News

Okay, the good news is that, at least in the U.S., magic picklin’ juice is available on Amazon. Seriously, is there anything that company doesn’t sell? They’ve got a drone army just to ship you pickle juice that’s floated all the way across the Pacific. What kind of company does that? Anyway, the bad news is that it only comes in a case of twelve, which means it’s too heavy for the drone army and unless you plan on opening your own Japanese pickle restaurant, you’re gonna have to make a dozen friends who are all as excited about pickles as I am. Good luck with that.

Making Pickles from Scratch

Okay, let’s see a show of hands for people who think they can just make pickles from scratch, using vinegar and some seasonings and stuff? Women in the audience? Great. Okay, now how many guys raised their hands? Splendid, you’re all gay. I mean, nothing wrong with that. Probably better you heard it from me rather than some hairy dude in the men’s room. Because no real man would ever take the time to make something that already comes in a bottle. Like ketchup. Sure, you could go out and plant tomato seeds and water them daily until they grow tall and sun-ripen to a rich red and you lovingly pluck them from their tiny stems and then violently mash them to bits with salt and sugar—-or you could just go buy a freaking bottle of Heinz. Pretty sure that’s why God created grocery stores in the first place.

I was amazed to discover that there are whole books devoted to pickling. What kind of sick person thinks, Today, I want to read a book about pickles? Clearly these people do not enjoy food. I mean, sure, you could order a book, wait for it to be delivered, then lie abed nightly poring through pickle recipes before drifting off to sleep, until one day you finally jump up and start pickling. Or you could consume a case’s worth of magic pickin’ juice in the same time. Your choice; just saying. So unless I open the book and pickles start falling out, there’s no way I’m buying it.

So there’s your ancient Oriental wisdom for the day: Japanese pickles, you should make ‘em. They taste excellent. Me, I’m gonna go order a pizza and eat a couple of Moon Pies. Space age, baby. But you should make ‘em. You can thank me later.



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50 Comments

  1. itsallgonepearshaped

    Ken, you should try going to an ABC cooking studio. All the Japanese ladies are trying to learn how to make salad, and corn bread. All the Gaijin are trying to make sushi and teriyaki. Try going alone as a gaijin bloke and they really don’t know how to deal with it. The easiest food ever is Gyudon, take some rice, boil some beef and noodles and plonk on top. I’ll pass on the pickles. 🙂

    • I think I’d be in the cornbread and salad class. I can never remember which goes in first, the lettuce or the dressing. Thus my cornbread always turns out poorly.

  2. We demand more frequent updates on your (mis)adventures! Been going through a bit of a withdrawal here …

    • Yeah, always a challenge between having adventures, and sitting down writing about them. I’ve never been very good at balancing competing demands. I think it’s an inner ear problem. But thanks for the support.

  3. Glad to see you’re back Ken. I acknowledge you are trying to do something so trivial as “get a life.” I have no such aspirations. Bring on the shochu!

    • Yeah, getting a life is kind of like a new hobby. But I’ll probably get tired of it soon. Things like doing laundry or going to work, I’m just not sure I see the point. Isn’t that why we have Fabreeze?

  4. I have actually made Japanese pickles from scratch, but I’m definitely going to go to my little local Japanese market and hope they have some of this stuff. Yeah, I am female but I’m not an idiot.

    • Yeah, I think one could make the case for making pickles from scratch, and I respect you for doing so. But given that this stuff takes exactly one second to pour over vegetables, it’s a pretty exciting alternative to anything resembling cooking. Ken Seeroi, living in the future. It’s a brave new world.

  5. Hello Seeroi San!

    30 seconds?
    Do they get better after a few weeks?
    Should I put the in the fridge?
    Thanks again for your awesome stuff.

    Traut

    • 30 minutes, Traut, not 30 seconds. I know that seems like an eternity to wait for something so delicious, but try to contain yourself.

      So the fridge, yes, absolutely. I put them in Tupperware with a tight-fitting lid, and then periodically shake them around, for pretty much no reason.

      As for longevity, well, you’re not actually pickling them in the sense of something you could line the shelves of your bomb shelter with in preparation for the zombie apocalypse. I always make small amounts, like one cucumber, a carrot, or a few okra at a time, and eat them up within about a week.

  6. When I was in the army I spent a year in Korea and I really liked most of the food quite a bit. One of the things that always stuck in my mind were the delicious pickled vegetables that were served with every meal. When I returned home my nightly dreams of wandering through the lingerie department of Sears while the musak played the them song from “Hell Comes To Frogtown” were replaced by dreams of bowls of those wonderful pickled veggies. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to recreate them, then would always just give up and just head out to the mall where in which a Sears was conveniently located. Could this elixir be what I need? I’m ordering a case for Christmas. And a Blue Ray copy of “Hell Comes To Frogtown” complete with commentary by Roddy Piper, promotional trailer and blooper reel.

    • I hope that magic pickle juice will be what finally transports you to the land of your dreams. You might also look into something called キムチの素 (kimuchi no moto), which basically makes anything you pour it on taste like kimchee. Kind of hard to go wrong with that.

  7. Eh, I actually don’t like tsukemono. I found them too salty and sour for my tastes. But then, I don’t really like salty or sour things, which is why I hate western pickles and potato chips. So the problem really isn’t the tsukemono but me. Now Japanese cheesecake on the other hand, I could eat an entire pan! 🙂

    • Yeah, I can understand that. Somehow over the years, I reprogrammed my tastebuds, just by eating tons of (non-cheesecake-related) Japanese food. Now I actually like the stuff. And along the way, I lost my taste for virtually all sweets, save cheesecake. That’s still fantastic.

  8. They have that stuff at some of the Japanese markets here in L.A., I think they have 3 flavors, which I have to agree they are all really dang good. Maybe Its that whole laziness thing, but when I go there, I see them on one shelf, and on another they have ready made tsukemono. I stand there thinking: cut up vegetables, wash the knife and cutting board, ugh, Ill just buy the ready made ones. Only problem is that here, they are made in either compton or city of vernon, in which i don’t think there are many Japanese grandmas making that stuff down there. Maybe I will try again at some point with the 浅漬けの素 though as I do think its better than the ready made stuff, and if you mix it with a little salad oil and touch of shoyu it makes great salad dressing too.
    Great having you back writing again after such a long lull.

    • Great to be back. Yeah, I know what you mean. Just the thought of having to actually slice up a carrot is enough to make me swear off cooking forever.

      The two things that swayed me were price and deliciousness. Tsukemono are borderline expensive. I’m like, two bucks for half a carrot? Like, I’m okay with paying two bucks for a beer. It’s not like I’m gonna go out and harvest my own wheat. But a freaking carrot–come on.

      But I guess the real kicker was the taste. Whatever they put in this stuff—and I’m not saying it’s exactly health food—man, it’s delicious. Express pickle a cucumber and then throw some sesame seeds on top. Dude.

  9. Thanks for putting the kanji there for easy matching in the grocery. Tsukemono always seems so expensive that I have to try this out. I have recently discovered the delicacy of smoked, pickled daikon. Unfortunately, I don’t know the kanji or the name but I know the look and smell – quasi useful. Apparently some Akita specialty but it’s awesome particularly with sake/sochu. Happy to pay for that as I don’t think the upstairs neighbor wants me converting the closet into a smoker.

    • At first, I thought you were describing takuan (沢庵), which is pickled daikon, but upon some Wikipediaing, I learned that it’s called いぶりがっこ (iburigakko). I’ve eaten it many times without knowing the name, and I agree, it’s fantastic. A whole other level above the kind of lightly pickled stuff I’m described here. That you should buy, as I don’t believe it’s within the realm of man to create.

  10. I recently stumbled upon this website, and it’s been a great read! Very interesting, informative, and funny articles! I’m a huge sucker for authentic Japanese food, and living so close to Toronto Ontario and having a Japanese girlfriend, I’m lucky to be able to filter through the fake stuff and get the real Japanese food (or as real as possible without actually living in Japan). I’ll have to keep an eye out for this one.

    On another note, I have to ask, you seem to be doing well for yourself in Japan, so would you say long-term working and living conditions are at least feasible? I’m not expecting you to say it’s going to be the easiest or best thing in the world, but that’s okay. My girlfriend and I are quite serious, and looking to move to Japan in about a year. I’m going to start off hopefully in a program like JET, or with an eikaiwa, and assuming all goes well, do you think I’ll be able to find some sort of stable, long term career to sustain a life with, should we decide we want to stay in Japan permanently? Any recommendations? Thanks a lot!

    • That’s a great question, and I think the key to the answer is getting your mind right. Another way of putting that would be: don’t do what I did.

      I was handicapped during my first few years here by a belief that Japan was welcoming to foreigners. If you read about Japan, and certainly if you visit, that’s the impression you’ll get. Now, I don’t mean to say it’s hostile; Japan’s a nice place and certainly much more accepting than many nations. But realize: first-generation immigrants anywhere always struggle. And that’s what you’ll be. You don’t speak the language perfectly, you may have customs and beliefs unaligned with those of the general population, and you look funny. Conjure up whatever image you have of an “immigrant,” and that’s gonna be you.

      Now here’s the trick. Japan does want foreigners to teach English, kind of like how the U.S. wants programmers from India. They’ll welcome you to do that job with open arms, and as long as that’s all you want out of life, you can be happy. But advancing much beyond teaching third-grade can be really hard. And becoming a part of the society, even harder. Just like it is for the Indian guy who speaks broken English with a horrible accent. He’s not going to get as many party invitations.

      So folks move here from Western nations, stay a few years, then slowly realize they’re being shut out of the real society and job opportunities. There’s a whole world that’s going on around them they’re unaware of. And then they go home.

      On the other hand, people from developing nations seem to come here with far fewer illusions. They hit the ground running, start hustling for work, and try hard to make a life here, because they sure as hell don’t want to go back where they came from.

      So that’d be my advice. Hit the ground running. Look relentlessly for new job opportunities. Get a driver’s license, a library card, and a credit card. Join a community group. Be an adult in the society. Become a citizen. Vote. And try to actually integrate, rather than just being “the foreign guy.” Or just hang out for a couple of years and head home. Actually, that’s probably the best advice. Like I said, don’t do what I did.

      • Wow, that’s a great response!

        When you drew the comparison to first generation immigrants in our countries, that really clicked, because you’re 100% right, that’s what I’d be: a first generation immigrant. I get the impression that a lot of JETs and working holiday guys just go for a party and come back when their hopes and dreams are dashed, and/or when they run out of money/interest. On the other hand, and I don’t mean to say this in a negative way or anything, it sounds like in your case your party just never ended, haha. And if I was a single dude, to be honest with you, I think I’d be totally down for that lifestyle, at least for a while.

        But I’m not in this alone, I have a potential life partner and potential future family to think about, and because of that, your advice to “hit the ground running” really spoke to me. I’ve met plenty of immigrants here in Canada who busted their ass and ended up living a successful life and providing a stable household for their kids. They weren’t simply given an answer, they found their way through work and perseverance. I won’t know if that’s going to be me until I actually get to Japan, but when I go, that’s certainly what I’m going to have in my mind.

        Thanks a lot Ken, I appreciate the advice and the reality check! Looking forward to your future posts!

        • Dear sir,

          Don’t do this move just because your partner is Japanese you think its hilarious to live in Japan. As practice shows, most of Japanese women want to go back home because they are homesick, and 50% (if not more) marriages end up in divorce. Read some old threads on gaijinpot forum and listen to people who have been here for a while. It is not worth it.
          Plus, don’t compare immigrants in Canada and Japan. It is absolutely different. One thing is to make it in Canada which is kind of a melting pot, lets say. And, another thing in Japan: 99% of people here are Japanese, and Ministry of Justice is an answer to foreigners)

          • Kate, you make a good point. Coming to Japan, you’re really putting yourself at a massive disadvantage. It took me forever to get back to where I’d been in America, just in terms of work and living situations. It was a full year before I was able to buy a bicycle, and I spent far too long working for low wages and using cardboard boxes as furniture. Socially, I’m still not there, and can’t imagine I ever will be.

            It’s probably worth it to ask yourself how many people you’ve heard of retiring here. I don’t know anybody. The odds of establishing a successful long-term life here would seem low.

            In thinking further about your situation, Richard, I think the immortal Mr. T put it best: “Prediction? Pain.

          • Yep. “Don’t do it” would be my advice too.

            Life can be hard enough as it is without making it harder for yourself unnecessarily.
            It’s funny how I feel kind of proud sometimes to have an actual job in Tokyo that requires a high level of Japanese, and does not involve teaching English. Then I turn around and realize I’d get paid more doing pretty much -any- job in Australia, and without the commute time. Then I go on to consider about how if I had put in a similar amount of effort into learning a skill needed by industry as I had into learning Japanese, I would actually be making four, five, six times as much right now. So purely from an economic standpoint, it’s a huge investment of time and effort to get anything like you would have at home just by turning up sober with pants on. From a non-economic standpoint, nearly everything also rates poorly (living conditions, social life). My partner and I graduated from a top Japanese university, and we both work for famous companies. And honestly? We would be happy to leave Japan next week and never come back if only our savings and resumes were better. Life here has a lot to recommend it, no doubt, but you need to have some very marketable skills/connections/luck to actually be stepping up career wise in the long term if you come from a Western country. You will almost certainly be better off back home. And that even goes for people from developing countries who are skilled. High skilled Chinese and Indians aren’t necessarily happy in Japan because the lifestyle is so tough and they can get hired globally. It’s the people without educations from these countries who tend to stay.

          • Hey, thanks for the responses guys.

            I appreciate the honesty. Call me stubborn or stupid, but I’m still totally gonna do it :P. But you guys gave me some new perspectives and things to consider, which is great. I think what’s interesting about my particular situation, at least in response to what you said Kate, is I’m actually the one driving the decision. In fact, had I not met my girlfriend, she would have likely moved to a different province in Canada and applied for residence, so, she’s certainly not dragging me there or feeling too homesick.

            What I find really interesting is despite you guys’ warnings, you all presumably live there and are going to keep living there for quite some time, if not forever. Despite the hardships and the disadvantages, something, whether good or bad, is keeping you there. I may be better off at home financially, but unfortunately I’ve shoe horned myself into a very specific career path here in Canada, one that doesn’t offer much in the way of flexibility or family life. So maybe that’s part of it, it’s not like it’s a choice between sunshine and roses in Canada or eternal hardship in Japan. If you’re prediction is pain, Ken, then I say no pain, no gain ;).

          • Just Stubborn or stupid?: Naaaa Rick, dat decision zounds more like a pepsi Qbecarite way of luukin at tings, nutin from the neck up.. LOL. Seer is right mang, nutin but pain in Ur future!

        • I’d say one key to life is making sure that, whatever your circumstances, the party keeps going. I’m pretty sure that when you get to heaven, God’s not gonna be like, Well, you made it extra hard on yourself, so I’ll give you extra points. And PS, it has nothing to do with Japan. I had some really great times in Canada too. Lots of good beer, and the people are so friendly and polite.

        • Hi again,

          To answer your question why we are still here (well, here I am going to speak for myself), months have passed and there has not been a single day when I didn’t think that I want to leave Japan. Saying and wishing for something is easy, but implementation has a lot of question marks open. “Where to go and how?” become very difficult questions when both you and your partner have a certain career and when both home countries are mutually exclusive for your relationship (in my case, both of our home countries are non-english speaking, so someone will end up in disadvantage when moving, simply because of language etc). If I had a chance to move on expat contract tomorrow, I will move out without any thinking)

          • I think what Kate said is well, um, said.

            It’s important to look at the big picture—the vast majority of Westerners who can leave Japan eventually do. Most of the folks who are here long-term can’t move, because they have a spouse or children that keep them tied to the country. It’s not so easy to return to your home country once you’ve got others depending upon you, and the selling point on your resume is that you spent years teaching 10 year-olds Simon-sez.

            Not trying to necessarily dissuade you, but you might want to proceed with caution, if not outright trepidation. Just sayin’.

      • In regards to the “advancing much beyond teaching third-grade can be really hard.” quote

        If you have a teaching credential (like I have) it is not too hard to get a job at an International school. At the very least get a TEFL and attempt to be the ESL teacher at an International school. The pay and perks are decent (the school paid for my flight here and my monthly rent) and who doesn’t love summers off?

        A long term career (with raises and bonuses!) is possible in Japan if you are at an International school. Even more so if you are a teaching couple. If you get tired of Japan it is fairly easy to return to your homeland or find a new International school outside of Japan.

  11. Christ, Ken. I’m in the middle of my first batch of miso pickles, and you show me this?? How am I considering spending ~$75 USD to make these pickles?? I’M ALREADY MAKING PICKLES! What are you doing to meeeeee

    • Stop! You fool! You know better than to take any independent action in the kitchen without consulting me first. Although miso pickles do sound delicious. Fax me a couple, will ya?

  12. Actually, I suck for media. After Biggie Smalls died, I pretty much turned off the stereo.

    I actually bought a portable radio when I first moved to Tokyo, but—and I’m not exaggerating—I couldn’t find a single station that played Japanese music, AM or FM. Everything would be five songs from the US or UK, followed by maybe one weak Japanese tune. I finally threw the radio in the trash.

    So every once in a while, I’ll hear a Japanese song I like, but it’s nothing I’d particularly recommend, and half the time it’s not even current. Maybe Mr. Taxi? Oh wait…

  13. Puffy (Darekaga, Ajia no junshin).
    Kick the Can Crew.
    Nakajima Miyuki (Fight).

  14. There is an abundance of gender stereotypes in this column a.k.a sexism. It’s like something out of the 80s. Disappointing.

    • Thanks for the comment. Not sure what qualifies as an “abundance,” but I do occasionally make fun of specific groups, including women, men, gay people, transgender people, white people, black people, brown people, yellow people, fat people, skinny people, folks in hats, and Australians. So if you happen to be a member of one or more of those groups, then sorry if I offended you.

      • You left pickles off your list of things to make fun of. I can see why EZPZ thinks you’re a sexy, 80 year old disappointment. That is what he means, methinks.

        BTW, learning Japanese is the opposite of easy, Ken. Can you mail me some of your brain? Thx

        • Does this mean my approval rate is falling? Ken Seeroi, I was gonna vote for him to succeed Abe as Prime Minister of Japan, but then he wrote that article making fun of pickles, and I lost all faith in him. I’m utterly disappointed.

          Yet another of life’s dreams, over the cliff like a herd of lemming.

          So okay, in the face of great fan pressure (well, one person, but I’m very sensitive), I’ve decided to rewrite the article in its entirety. The corrected copy, designed to be as straightforward and crowd-pleasing as possible, is as follows:

          Japanese pickles. Use this stuff to make them (see illustration). They taste good. PS: Please love me. Thanks, Ken.

      • You can’t tell me you actually think people in hats are the same as people without hats? Come on, just look at them. I mean, I’m not hating on them, but they’re clearly a race apart.

  15. I wasn’t able to find 浅漬けの素 when I first went looking for it, but found ピクルスの素 and made up a batch of veggies using that instead. Having now tried 浅漬けの素 I have to say I prefer the pickles one, but thanks for turning me on to such a great and easy way to prepare vegetables for snacking!

    • That’s good to know. Basically, I tried this once, was like, Wow, this stuff’s delicious, then immediately sat down and wrote the article. So I did a lot of research, is what I’m saying. But if there’s something more amazing, then it just reconfirms that the universe is indeed infinite. I’ll look for it in the stores, and I do like the fact that the name is far closer to my translation of “picklin’ juice.”

  16. This is the picklin’ juice I used, btw:

    http://tinyurl.com/p5r2bww

  17. Whoops, that link worked from my phone, but doesn’t seem to from a desktop. Try this one instead:
    http://nissyokuattachedfile.blob.core.windows.net/ns-public/166636

  18. I’m addicted to this Youtube channel “cooking with the dog”. Cheesy and all, I love it. I’m sure she’ll teach us how to make the perfect pickles. You all should watch it just for the strange Italian/Japanese/English mixed accent. Btw, I’m Spanish and I’ve tried all kind of pickles, I just buy them and eat them, no need to slice veggies or whatever. We have pickled baby eggplants. Those are delicious, really. It is like those little things they ate in Futurama that were super addictive and then they turned out to be baby aliens.

  19. I love love love tsukemono. It’s very hard to find tsukemono that isn’t drenched in MSG. You know the MSG that was created for the Japanese army so after a long march they could put some magic spices on their rotted meat and the soldiers would think it tasted like filet mignon? Yeah that one! Except MSG is super bad for you. Can someone please tell me how to make this delicious tsukemono in a healthy way so I don’t come down with cancer?

  20. Hey Ken, just wanted to thank you for this article even if it’s been a while! My mum came to see me in Japan – first time outside of Europe for her – and she was a big fan of the pickles here. So she asked me how to make them and I immediately thought of this article. One supermarket trip later, boom, 浅漬けの素 and a selection of pickles. My mum thanks you.

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