Japanese pickled daikon
Japanese pickled daikon
Image: apinchofsaffron.nl

Growing up in the Eastern Cape, Durban was the closest big city destination. It was a thriving metropolis for us then.

It was always a culinary adventure as well. The smells were so different in the air, from the masala-coated pineapple and mango to the extra crisp of a samosa. Even the beachfront ice-cream was yummier than our local cone-with-a-flake near the Wimpy along the East London beachfront. You’d always hear of pickle being mentioned or offered around a table, but that was usually of the green mango variety. As a non-liker of mangoes, this was not something I sampled as a kid and never ventured to as an adult, even as my palate grew more adventurous.

At our Sunday lunches, if my mother had not made the beetroot with vinegar, sugar and white pepper, it would come in a glass jar and be strangely crinkle cut with a different level of acidity. I now realise as I’m older that beetroot was indeed pickled.

I often ventured as a child towards the sour and tart as a flavour profile versus the sweet, but there was a strangeness to the smell of the pickling juice in the jar that always made me weary. I liked my vinegar over good old-fashioned slap chips or in the salad dressing my mother would make, way before we knew that vinegar was more than the white spirit kind. Balsamic vinegar was quite the discovery well into my teens if not early 20s.

My dad took us to Chinatown when we moved to Joburg and we sampled even more flavours, and then one school night when my mother had gone out of town to a funeral, he took us to a restaurant where I tasted daikon for the first time. I hadn’t known it was pickled, but its freshness next to the sticky chicken and rice made me sit back and then lean in for another mouthful. I asked what it was and, as I was known to do in my youth, I wanted to know what it was and what family of vegetables it came from and where it grew.

I forgot about it for some years until I went to Japan and saw it gloriously available on plates everywhere. The joy. I never knew where to buy it and, much like some dishes I like a lot, I never wanted to learn how to prepare it, I just wanted to savour it.

Tshepo's pickled daikon
Tshepo's pickled daikon
Image: Supplied

Meandering in Chinatown a few weekends ago, we saw a crowd hovered around a store with the freshest of produce. As the culinary rule goes, go where the locals go. I saw daikon and I took one without a plan.

I came home and while I had loads of work to do, looking up a recipe for how to pickle daikon was what my procrastination dreams were made of. I’ve been known to paint a whole cushion cover to avoid studying.

I tweaked this recipe to my taste and I currently have the most delicious and crunchy pickled daikon in my fridge.


  1. 3 medium or two large daikon, washed and peeled
  2. 1 or two red chillies, seeds removed if you do not want the heat
  3. Half a cup of rice vinegar
  4. 1 cup water
  5. ¼ cup brown sugar
  6. 1 teaspoon salt


  • Prepare and boil a glass jar or two with a tight-fitting lids, make sure they have wide openings to make this a little easier to pour in.
  • Make sure your daikon is thinly and uniformly sliced, use a mandolin or the attachment on many food processors that makes fine slices.
  • In a sauce pan, over medium heat, combine the water, sugar and salt until thoroughly dissolved. Bring it to a gentle boil.
  • Pour in the rice vinegar, bring to a boil again and set aside.
  • In the jar/s place the daikon and chilli in layers for a balance of flavours.
  • Pour in the hot, pickling liquid.
  • Close the lid tightly and allow the mixture to cool at room temperature for about an hour.
  • Place in the fridge.
  • For the flavour to really seep through, give it a day or two.

Enjoy this with your favourite rice as a little addition when serving. This pickled daikon really makes you feel so accomplished in the kitchen. Every time you open the fridge and this jar of success greets you, I suggest a little personal high five.

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