Kanako's Kitchen

Sunomono: Cucumber and Wakame Salad in a Vinegar Marinade

Posted in Chopstick Vacation, Recipe, side dish by Kanako Noda on October 21, 2009

sunomonoLiteral translations have a way of sounding ridiculous, and none more so than Sunomono’s: it comes out as “vinegarable thing” or “that which you put vinegar on.” This concept covers a whole family of dainty Japanese salads flavored with a subtle, vinegar-based marinade and sometimes (but not necessarily) topped with seafood.

Ancient documents show that Japanese people have been making sunomono-style dishes at least since writing was first introduced to our country. That’s over 1300 years ago!

Now, sunomono is not exactly a side dish: instead, it’s what we call a “hashi-yasume” (箸休め) which – and here comes another of those crazy literal translations – means “chopstick vacation”. Less poetically – but more helpfully – my dictionary glosses it as a “palate-cleansing side dish.”

You know how sometimes, in a fancy French restaurant, they will serve a tiny dish of sorbet between courses to refresh your palate? Hashi-yasume is a little bit like that: a tiny, refreshing dish that contrasts with and accentuate the experience of eating the main dishes in the meal. That’s why sunomono is always served in very small portions: it’s not really a dish, it’s a holiday for your chopsticks!

One last thing about this recipe: in Japan, you would make sunomono with rice vinegar. Now, if you’re a purist with money to burn, you can certainly find rice vinegar in Europe and North America, too. But we realized a long time ago that good apple cider vinegar works just as well for these kinds of recipes, and costs much less, so that’s what we use here in Montreal.

ingredients sunomonoIngredients (for two)


  • Cucumber – one small one – about 10 cm long
  • Cut wakame seaweed – one tablespoon
  • Optional: Sesame seeds
  • Optional: Kanikamaboko – imitation crab meat*

For the marinade

  • Vinegar – two tablespoons
  • Sugar – one tablespoon
  • Salt – just a pinch


  • Soak dried wakame in hot water to recompose it, for about 5 minutes
  • Place a whole cucumber on a wooden cutting board and sprinkle it with salt
  • Applying a little pressure with the base of your hands, roll the cucumber back-and-forth over the salt, until it starts to “sweat” – i.e., give off excess water.
    This technic is called “itazuri” and it makes cucumber color vivid and remove the unpleasant bitteness. I do itazuri also for normal cucumber salad.
  • If there’s too much salt on the cucumber at the end, rinse it off with water
  • Slice the cucumber diagonally, as thin as possible. You’re aiming for translucent slices here. And squeeze out the extra moisture.
  • Once it’s recomposed, drain the wakame and squeeze out the extra moisture
  • Mix the marinade together and stir thoroughly, making sure the sugar dissolves fully in the vinegar (the color in photo is brownish only because I use brown sugar)
  • Pour the marinade over the cucumbers and wakame (*If you have Kanikamaboko, add here pulling apart.)
    mix thoroughly
  • Let it sit in the sauce for a few minutes
  • Serve on dainty little plates and sprinkle some sesame seeds on top

wakame under water salt cucumber itazuri

cut thin squeeze cucumber wakame recomposed

drain water marinade mix thoroughly

click to enlarge

I like to pair this very light salad with a heavy dish like gyuniku itame, just to give my chopsticks a little vacation now and then from all the greasy meat.

20th dinner

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5 Responses

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  1. revbob22 said, on October 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    So how much does rice wine vinegar cost in Montreal?

    I find it to be almost the same cost, ounce for ounce, as any other vinegar. In the US at least.

    Perhaps the brand has something to do with it?

    • caracaschronicles said, on October 22, 2009 at 10:07 am

      They tried to charge me C$7.50 for a 120 ml. bottle at the Korean/Japanese store. I chuckled and paid $2.15 for apple cider vinegar at the normal supermarket.

      Thing is, this is not a compromise. It’s not like you have to sacrifice a little bit on the taste to save some money. On this recipe, apple cider vinegar is just as good as rice vinegar.

      So my motto still is…viva mejor por menos!

      • Kepler said, on October 22, 2009 at 10:20 am

        Perhaps you can look for the same stuff for half the price at the chinese shop. In Brussels I see lots of Japanese buying there.

        It is like with Japanese restaurants abroad: there is no reason why their prices should be so much higher for half the amount of food. I suppose they do so because they are trying to make us believe they need to charge Japanese prices…sort of: else, it does not taste the same.

      • revbob22 said, on October 23, 2009 at 8:45 am

        Bercia! Highway robbery, no question! Here in the capital of the Imperium, decent japanese rice wine vinegar can be had for the same price, but you get 4 litres.

        You want me to ship you some?

      • caracaschronicles said, on October 23, 2009 at 9:20 am

        Thanks revbob, pero es que en serio I would bother you for it if Apple Cider Vinegar worked *almost* but not quite as well as Rice Vinegar. But I’m serious, we’ve done blind taste tests and everything. We can’t tell the difference!

        We don’t believe in bullshit ingredient puritanism. We simply refuse to get hung up on how “authentic” an ingredient is. We *do* get hung up on how authentic the *taste* is at the end, which is another matter altogether.

        So thanks, but no, thanks. Apple cider vinegar is the solution.

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