Taste Your Way Around Japan: 10 Regional Delicacies to Try!
Japanese cuisine has a wide variety of dishes that are specific to certain regions. These dishes collectively are called kyodo-ryori, or more casually, gotochi gourmet.
Many of these dishes have originated from local ingredients and have recipes that have been created as a result of the specific conditions of the region.
Nowadays, many of these dishes have spread and become known throughout Japan. Some of you may have even eaten the dishes overseas. This article will show you where and how these dishes actually originated. Travel to these places for yourself if you want to try the authentic dishes! Top food samples: Tokyo Shoseki
Okonomiyaki is a casual type of Japanese cuisine. It is a teppanyaki style dish that uses flour as the main ingredient. I’m sure there are many of you who have already tried it. The batter is made from flour mixed with water. Vegetables, meat, seafood are mixed in as ingredients and then cooked on the teppan. Sauce, mayonnaise and ao-nori (powdered type of seaweed) are used as topping. You may have seen restaurants where you cook your own okonomiyaki?
What’s interesting about the okonomiyaki is that the method of cooking and the variation of dishes are very diverse depending on the region.
Kansai Style: Osaka
The Kansai-fu (Kansai Style) Okonomiyaki uses chopped cabbage, seafood and many other ingredients in the flour batter. Yamaimo is sometimes used in the batter to give a lighter texture.
One type of the Kansaifu Okonomiyaki is called the Modan (Modern) Yaki. This is a style when boiled (or steamed) Chinese noodles are topped on an okonomiyaki that is cooked only on one side, and then cooked altogether.
Hiroshima Style: Hiroshima Prefecture
The Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki or Hiroshimayaki is distinctive because it doesn’t mix all the ingredients, but rather layers in the ingredients. It starts with a crepe like sheet of batter and then, other ingredients like yakisoba (fried noodles) and egg are layered on.
Monjya Yaki: Kanto Area
The monjya yaki is often served in restaurants that serve okonomiyaki. This is cooked on a teppan (iron griddle), and everyone uses a small spatula to eat. In recent years it has become more recognized around Japan as a traditional food of old Tokyo. It may seem strange that ingredients like Baby Star Ramen snack, cheese and mocha (rice cake) are used as the ingredients.
2. Sanuki Udon: Kagawa Prefecture
The Sanuki Udon has become a brand name udon that is recognized all over Japan! It is said that there are over 900 Sanuki Udon stores within Kagawa Prefecture. Many of the famous stores have areas where you can eat udon right at the Seimensho, which is a little udon factory. Some of you may have an idea of what the factory and eating spaces look like from the popularity of the movie, “Udon”.
See the trailer:
Because Kagawa prefecture has little rainfall and is blessed with mild climate, they are able to produce high quality flour. The long distances of shoaling beaches with not much tide as well as the scarce rainfall makes the area also perfect for the production of salt; a necessary ingredient in production of udon.
The Ibukijima-island located within the Seto Inland Sea is particularly famous for the Ibuki Iriko, a well-known brand of dried Japanese anchovy fry that is caught with cast nets and then dry processed on the island, and Shodoshima Island is a large producer of shoyu. Both ingredients are necessary for making the udon.
So, it was thanks to being able to source all the necessary ingredients locally, from the high quality flour and salt necessary to make the udon to the ingredients needed to make the broth that the udon took root in the Sanuki area.
3. Gyu tan (Beef tongue): Sendai-shi, Miyagi Prefecture
It is said that the dish was born shortly after World War II, when food was scarce in Japan. Beef tongue was not eaten so much in Japan at that time, but the owner of a Yakitori shop discovered how delicious tongue was when eating it in a French style stew. He experimented to see how he could use this ingredient in a Japanese style and came up with the idea to season it with salt and eat it grilled.
4. Natto: Ibaraki Prefecture
The Mito area is a large producer of soy bean. In many farming households, they had produced natto in their homes and now the area has become famous all over Japan as a producer of natto. It is said that during the Gosannen War (The Later Three-Year War, 1083), when Minamoto-no-Yoshiie was travelling to Oushu, he spent the night at the home of a wealthy lord in Watari-cho of Mito-shi. The story goes that the natto was made from leftover cooked beans that was used to feed horses
5. Masu Zushi: Toyama Prefecture
This is a type of pressed sushi topped with masu (trout); the vivid colored slices. You may have seen it when you are travelling as they often have this as an Eki-Ben (bento lunch boxes you get at train stations) dish. A circular container is lined with bamboo leaves. Then packed with rice seasoned with vinegar and salted and seasoned trout. The filling is then wrapped in the bamboo to create a pressed sushi.
Records date back to 1717 when it was made with the high quality rice of the Ecchu Province (the current Toyama Prefecture and the ayu (sweetfish) of the Jinzu River. Later the fish they used changed to the masu and has become widely known as a traditional food of the Ecchu area. Nowadays there are a lot of shops in the Toyama Prefecture that specialize in the masu zushi. It has become a favorite all over Japan as eki-ben and as souvenirs.
Gyoza is said to originally be from China but it has taken root in Japan and distinct gyoza cultures have developed in the various regions. Below are some of the major areas known for Gyoza as well as what makes them unique.
Utsunomiya Gyoza: Utsunomiya-shi, Tochigi Prefecture
There are several stories on why the gyoza took root in Utsunomiya. One theory is that people in Utsunomiya ate gyoza to build stamina to fight the strong summer days and the harsh winter distinctive of the Utsunomiya climate. Another theory is the army that traveled to the North Eastern part of China had an army post in Utsunomiya. Those members of the military who had eaten Gyoza in China brought it back to Japan and from there, it spread throughout the region leading many specialty stores to open shop.
Fukushima Gyoza: Fukushima Prefecture
In Fukushima-shi, there are many Gyoza shops that have about 40 to 50 years of history. Because the disastrous effects of the war were relatively mild in this region, it is said that those who had retreated from Manchuria and the demobilized army had started small eat-in shops in the black market. It is said that the first gyoza restaurant to open in this area is “Manpuku”, in the 28th year of the Showa period (1953). Their distinctive style was to arrange the gyoza radially. They were pan-fried without using a lot of oil and their standard ratio for the filling is 7 parts vegetable (mainly hakusai/nappa cabbage) and 3 parts meat.
Hamamatsu Gyoza: Shizuoka Prefecture
It is said that a dish served by street venders around the 30th year of the Showa period (1955) is the start of the current Hamamatsu style Gyoza. The standard style uses lighter fillings of mainly vegetables such as cabbage and onion, mixed with pork and served with bean sprouts. They are often pan-fried in a circular shape with special fillings, methods for making the skin and methods of cooking depending on the restaurant.
Related: Exploring Hamamatsu Using Bus Lines
Hitokuchi (One-bite) Gyoza: Fukuoka Prefecture
It is said that the reason for making the gyoza into bite size portions is to satisfy the impatient nature of the Fukuoka folks. Another theory is lock the fragrances and juices of the gyoza inside. The skin and filling are usually hand made. The traditional style uses ground pork, cabbage and leek for the filling. When cooking, water is poured into the hot pot to first steam the dumplings and then heated further to give it a crisp crunch. For the dipping sauce, a citrusy garnish called Yuzu Kosho is mixed with vinegar and soy sauce.
7. Chanpuru: Okinawa Prefecture
This is a food created by Okinawans to beat the summer heat! “Champuru” means “all jumbled up”, in Okinawan dialect. What it really is, is a stir-fried dish and they use vegetables, anything they grow in their own backyard garden, meat tofu… all kinds of different ingredients. If they use the goya, which is a bitter gourd filled with vitamin C, thought to be effective in fighting the summer heat, then it’s a “Goya Champuru”. The dish and other variations using fu (it’s a bread-like food made of what gluten) called the “Fu Champuru” and that using somen noodles called the “Somen Champuru” are famous throughout Japan.
8. Yuba: Nikko-shi, Tochigi Prefecture
Yuba, which is sometimes called tofu skin, is a food product made from soybeans. During the boiling of soy milk, in an open shallow pan, a film or skin forms on the liquid surface. It was eaten by monks in training as a good source of protein as they keep to a vegetarian diet. Later it was offered to visitors who came to pray to the Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
9. Hitsumabushi: Aichi Prefecture
As Aichi prefecture is one of the major producers of Unagi (eel) in Japan, the dish Hitsumabushi became popular in Nagoya. Rice and Kabayaki (broiled) Unagi is laid over rice in a box-like container and it is served with garnish such as seaweed, scallions, wasabi, hot broth and/or hot tea.
When you eat it, you mix the rice and the unagi and split it in 4 portions. The first portion, you can eat as is. The second portion with garnish. The third with broth or tea poured over it, aka ochazuke style. The fourth portion, you can eat it any way you like. So you can enjoy the dish in 4 different ways.
10. Chicken Namban: Miyazaki Prefecture
Miyazaki prefecture, known for poultry farming created this local dish around the 40th year of the Showa period (1965). Battered and fried karaage chicken is steeped in a sweet vinegar sauce, then served with tartar sauce. Each restaurant that serves this dish has a special recipe for the vinegar sauce and the tartar sauce. The combination of the two flavors is just delicious!
Just writing this article and seeing all these pictures of the food makes me hungry! The list of gotochi gourmet is endless! We hope you at least get to try some of the dishes from the 10 dishes we selected to introduce on the site. Do try other regional specialties for yourself when you actually visit the various regions in Japan!