Gari – Japanese Pickled Ginger

Over the last two decades, traditional Japanese food has acquired an international character with ingredients and condiments from different cultures; it might have started as a way to disguise unfamiliar flavours, then transformed into a trend, and today it is a well known delight.  For example, the California sushi roll resulted from the fusion of avocado and cream cheese with traditional seaweed maki (roll). In Mexico, spicy sauces, fried sushi and local produce were applied to successfully introduce traditional fare.  As good examples, in the photos below, one of my meals at a Japanese restaurant during a trip to Mexico City included: fried maki sushi with spicy sauce (left), which was even served with a cucumber-avocado salad and the ubiquitous lime wedge; and zucchini and broccoli tempura (Japanese batter), pictured in front of a traditional maki sushi (right):

The spicy sauce sometimes substitutes wasabi paste in Mexican sushi plates, but gari – the pink pickled ginger – is still often served, since its sweet vinegary taste is a delicious contrast to salty or spicy flavours, in addition of being a refreshing palate cleanser.  Good quality gari is prepared only with young ginger (shin shõga) to produce a crisp texture and mild flavour, combined with the attractive lustre of the pinkish tint that comes naturally from the tips of young rhizomes.  Since I had just harvested my homegrown ginger, I decided to prepare a small batch of homemade Japanese pickled ginger

Japanese Pickled Ginger (Gari)

Jengibre estilo japonés (Gari)

Printable recipe: Japanese Pickled Ginger (Gari)

Ingredients (yield:1/2 cup)

50 g (about ½ cup) fresh ginger rhizomes, preferably young with pink tips attached (shin shõga)
½ + ¼ tsp coarse salt, such as Kosher
Boiling water, as needed
1/3 cup (80 ml) rice vinegar
3 tbsp granulated white sugar

Once the rhizomes are washed and dried, remove any blemishes and peel by gently scraping with a spoon. Slice ginger as thinly as possible, reserving pink tips (I used a mini mandolin; a grater might work, using the side with the largest holes):

slicing young ginger with mandoline
Young ginger finely sliced with a Japanese mini-mandolin tool. The ginger rhizome on the left is about two inches long; notice the pale shade and pink tips, characteristic of young ginger.

Note: In a previous post, I showed how to harvest and clean ginger; I must confess that I felt exasperated at the time because I only remembered to take pictures when cleaning one of the smallest plants – ugh! I hope to get some redemption here, by showing the rhizome pictured above, about two inches long, which would be more representative of the typical size and appearance of young ginger.


Place ginger slices and tips in a bowl and sprinkle with half a teaspoon of salt; mix and let stand for 10 minutes. Fill bowl with boiling water and let ginger soak for another 10 minutes:

Meanwhile, dissolve sugar and the rest of the salt in the vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring for about three minutes, to reduce the vinegar very slightly. Remove from heat and cover. Drain water from ginger in a colander, pressing with a fork to squeeze as much water out of the ginger as possible (discard liquid or use for other dish, such as soup). Place ginger in a clean bottle, then pour warm vinegar mix over, to fill the bottle:

Close bottle with lid, and let cool completely.  Store in the fridge, at least overnight; it will keep in the refrigerator for several months, developing a natural pink colour after a couple of days, from the young ginger tips.

A few days later, I was at the mall and bought take-out sushi; I got three rolls, choosing with a Mexican theme in mind: chicken katsu (breaded), sweet potato tempura (battered), and cucumber.  They came with pickled ginger and a creamy sesame sauce. Back at home, I placed the ginger from the mall next to some of my homemade gari, and ask my husband to compare them; he thanked me for “ruining restaurant ginger for life” (LOL), while finishing all the homemade sample.  Even just from looks alone, as it may be appreciated in the picture below, the artificial bright pink from the food-court sample (left) seemed too fake against the natural off-white pink colour starting to develop in my homemade ginger (right):

shin shoga gari bought and homemade

sauces for Mexican twistJust for fun, and to honour the Mexican theme along with fried sushi flavours, I also doctored the sesame sauce from my combo (pictured right), with a dollop of mayonnaise and a good splash of hot sauce:

 

 

 

 

 

I arranged the rolls on a large plate, decorated some with spicy sauce, and featured my Japanese pickled ginger (gari) prominently:

Gari and sushi


Another note: If using mature fresh ginger, please check the comments below, to learn how to modify this recipe.  “Young” ginger turns into “aged” or “mature” fresh ginger, developing a light brown and dry skin if left to cure for a couple of weeks, even in the fridge, as I sadly learned recently, when I opened my veggie drawer and found a few forgotten rhizomes.


I am joining What’s for dinner? Sunday link-up # 173, graciously hosted by Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.

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15 thoughts on “Gari – Japanese Pickled Ginger

  1. I’ve bookmarked this post. I love pickled ginger, and your recipe looks easy to do and your instructions are great. Thanks so much.

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    1. Wonderful! Do you have access to young ginger? If you wish to reduce the pungency of more mature ginger, instead of just soaking the slices in boiling water, cook them in the water in a saucepan over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, then proceed with the recipe. I hope it works for you!

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      1. I will keep my eyes open for the pink tips that you mentioned. Would a specialty market carry the young ginger. My supermarkets carry it, but I can’t remember the pink tips. I can’t wait to try this recipe. Thanks for the additional tip for mature ginger.

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      2. It is very seasonal even in Japan, and local, more of a farmer’s market or “grow your own”. If not available, try to find the freshest mature ginger (brown skin but light coloured, and heavy for its size, so it is juicy). Slicing paper-thin and along the fiber direction also helps with the mature ginger. Good luck!

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  2. Thought you’d like to know we had your Tlalpan Style Soup for supper. It smelled wonderful while it cooked, and my husband enjoyed it! I left the Chipotle off of his, but enjoyed a little bit on mine. Truly, truly delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m going to try making ginger with storebought (since I haven’t grown any). It won’t taste as good as yours with the fresh-picked young ginger but it might work. I love pickled ginger. Can I leave off the sugar or does sugar have preservative powers? I know salt does and vinegar does but not sure about sugar

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    1. Since it is kept in the fridge you could skip the sugar, but I think the flavour will be different for sure. If you are using store ginger, give it a boil in water for a few minutes instead of the soaking in boiling water step; that should take some of the sharp taste away, then follow the recipe as before. I hope it turns out yummy!

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  4. I love pickled ginger. I snack on it. Pinned your recipe to remind me to try to make it myself! Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party.

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