It's often said that a Japanese meal is built around three core foods: rice, soup, and pickles. Rice, plain and filling, is the main staple, so significant to the national cuisine that scarcely a meal goes by without it. Soup, miso-enhanced or otherwise, provides the comforts of umami—the appeal of a rich dashi broth is easy to understand. But pickles, in contrast, are a little less straightforward in their virtues. Tart, pungent, and often imbued with funky overtones, they are best enjoyed in small bites. In the context of the larger meal, they practically traverse the boundary between side dish and condiment.
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