Most people associate pickled ginger with Japanese sushi but it’s prepared and enjoyed in other parts of Asia. Years ago thumbing through a classic Vietnamese cookbook from the 1940s, I came across a pickled ginger recipe that was similar to the Japanese preparation but less sweet. Here’s a Thai recipe that is more tart than sweet and another that’s fancied up with lemongrass and chile (reminds me of the green tomato pickle I make).
But the Japanese version (gari) is without doubt the go-to. The commercial gari pales in comparison to homemade, which has brighter flavor and personality. Plus you can tweak the brine according to your taste.
The first task is getting the ginger! Typically cooks use young ginger that’s mild in heat and easy to slice. Its skin is translucent so it looks creamy. Sometimes there are pink pointy tips, too. I used to see young ginger at Asian markets in September but recently, I spotted some at Mitsuwa, a Japanese market with locations in major Asian enclaves; check other Japanese and Chinese markets. The summer ginger seemed to be a little tougher (more heat).