Japan has long had a reputation for its excellent cuisine. All over the world, people enjoy popular Japanese food staples such as ramen and sushi. Not only are they sampling Japanese food in restaurants, they are also shopping at their favorite Japanese online store and rustling up a storm in their home kitchen.
However, the best way to truly experience Japan’s food culture is to head there and journey off the beaten track.
Time to introduce you to six areas of Japan where food is closely intertwined with the local cultures. Visit these areas and you’ll get an insight into their varying lifestyles and gain a deeper understanding of authentic Japanese cuisine.
Towada is located in the Aomori Prefecture. It’s home to the soul food bara-yaki. The origins of this dish are a yakiniku restaurant run by Koreans. There they grilled beef that had been left at the US military base following the war.
The traditional way to prepare bara-yaki is by using beef ribs and onions which are seasoned with a sweet and spicy soy sauce marinade. This is all grilled on an iron plate. Nowadays, local beef or pork is usually used in this dish.
Towada is worthy of a visit for more than just the bara-yaki. If you get the chance, hike among waterfalls, mountainous scenery, and lush nature at the Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada.
If you’re more at home in an urban setting, get yourself an e-bike rental and enjoy Towada City’s streets and hot springs.
Ishinomaki is situated on the northeastern coast of Honshu in the Miyagi Prefecture. It’s a huge fishing city and home to the rare sea squirt, also known as sea pineapple. This delicacy is only harvested in Hokkaido and along the Sanriku coast.
A local dish is sea squirt zoni. The highlight of the dish is the flavors of the sea and the dish beautifully combines sea squirt stock, grilled sea squirt, local vegetables and seafood, salmon roe, naruto paste, and baked mochi.
In the area, you can also sample various other seafood-based dishes. One local specialty you won’t want to miss is seri and the ishinomaki seri nabe. This dish is a warm soup made of oysters, rice cakes, and seri (water dropwort).
Seri is a Japanese herb with a strong herbal aroma that adds a refreshing flavor to any dish.
If you love noodles, Ina City in the Nagano Prefecture is the place to go as it’s the birthplace of Shinshu soba. Locals have been enjoying this dish for centuries. The traditional way to serve it is with a spicy soup made from daikon radish juice and grilled miso paste.
For those who crave something less conventional, try Ina’s ancient insect cuisine of bee larvae, locusts, and zazamushi boiled in soy.
There’s plenty to explore in the area once you’ve had your fill. Visit during the spring and you’ll get to see some of the best cherry blossoms in the country at a popular viewing spot in Takato Castle Ruins Park.
Saku is located in also in the Nagano Prefecture and is one of Japan’s leading sake brewing areas. It’s also blessed with a cool climate, plentiful natural resources, freshwater, and majestic mountains perfect for skiing and snowboarding.
The region is relatively small but features 13 breweries and has been brewing sake for more than three centuries.
The area’s food culture centers around miso-based dishes and pickles, all of which accompany sake perfectly. The region’s traditional carp dish is also not to be missed.
Take time out from your sake sampling to enjoy the picturesque countryside filled with hot springs, endless stargazing opportunities, tranquil shrines, mountainous vistas, and lots of sunny weather.
Masuda City is in Shimane Prefecture. The area is naturally abundant and surrounded by the Sea of Japan, the Chugoku Mountains, and the Takatsu River, where you’ll find some of Japan’s highest-quality water.
The steady flow of water lends itself well to Masuda’s cuisine which features locally harvested wasabi and natural ayu (sweetfish). A very popular local dish is uzume rice. It features fluffy rice placed over freshly grated wasabi and submerged in dashi (Japanese soup stock). This is accompanied by the fresh flavor of natural ayu caught in the Takatse River.
Beef lovers must visit this final location in the Okayama Prefecture. Tsuyama was once the highest consumer of beef in Japan. Today, it still produces a tasty variety of quality beef and specialty dishes.
One of Tsuyama’s most popular beef dishes is sozuri hot pot. It has a rich soy sauce-based soup filled with premium beef, local vegetables, and tofu.
Street food fans must try Tsuyama’s version of okonomiyaki. It features a Japanese savory pancake, filled with cabbage and topped with sweet and savory sauces. The dish gets a regional twist with the addition of beef. The region also has phenomenal beef jerky, if you need a snack on the go.
When you’ve finished filling up on beef dishes, explore some of Tsuyama’s historical sites. There are also workshops where you can learn how to weave, meditate, and harvest the area’s vegetables.