The Japanese have a word for regional specialties – Meibutu, of which food is among the most popular forms, and finds its way into advertisements, souvenirs, and even into tour highlights. – says our Japan correspondent Ted Grinewich-Yonashiro.
So, on your next jaunt across the Japanese islands, keep these five Meibutsu in mind.
Ika-meshi in Hokkaido
Ikameshi is a whole squid that is stuffed with steamed rice and cooked in a dashi broth. Carrots, bamboo shoots, and chopped up squid tentacles are often mixed with the rice stuffing.
When in Hokkaido, check to see if you can find a local restaurant that serves Ika-meshi. Local restaurants will give you that home-made taste only possible in Hokkaido.
Famous Spots: Hokkaido’s “Morimachi Ika-Meshi” is a famous brand of Ika-Meshi bento (lunch boxes) sold in most shops and in train stations. This is a great bento to eat while riding on the bullet train. The Morimachi packaging has cobalt-blue writing and squid printed on the package.
Monjayaki in Tokyo
Monjayaki is a type of teppan-yaki (pan-fried) batter containing cabbage and a protein such as pork or shrimp. Monjayaki uses a runny batter that makes the dish free formed and closer to a stir-fry.
Monja-Yaki usually comes in multiple flavours with different toppings. Go to a restaurant with friends, order several different kinds of monjayaki, and have everyone share. Make sure you go to a restaurant with griddles at the table to get the full experience.
Famous Spots: Nishinaka-dori in Tokyo’s Tsukushima is a street well known for being home to numerous Monjayaki shops. Take exit seven from Tsukishima-Staion on Tokyo’s Toei-Oedo Line for easy access to the famous Monja-yaki restaurants in Tokyo.
Sakura Mochi in Kyoto
Sakura mochi is a sweet dumpling made with pounded glutenous rice (mochi rice) and stuffed with sweet red bean paste. The rice sometimes has a light pink hue, like the petals of the cherry blossom trees, and is wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf.
Many restaurants serve Sakuramochi but try to visit a shop that makes their own mochi on site. Many mochi-shops will have a cafe attached where you can order a cup of tea and an order of the sakura mochi they make. Some shops will even let you sample some of the mochi before you visit the cafe.
Famous Spots: Arashiyama in Kyoto has many tea shops that will give you the beautiful scenery of mountains or a bamboo forest to enjoy with your eyes while sampling this sweet Japanese treat!
Takoyaki in Osaka
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped batter-based dumpling with a hard crust and a soft doughy center. These famous dumplings are stuffed with a chunk of octopus and sometimes other ingredients such as chopped green onions or cubes of konyaku-jelly. Takoyaki is often topped with a savoury brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, green seaweed flakes, and bonito flakes.
Check out what is cooking on the Takoyaki-griddle before buying your Takoyaki. Takoyaki shops that have a line will offer you better tasting Takoyaki that has been recently made–hot off the griddle. Shops with no line will often sell you product that has been sitting out for a while. Takoyaki is best eaten right after it is made and does not keep well.
Famous Spots: Yama-Chan outside the Hoop Shopping Mall near Tennoji station in Osaka City is well known for serving hot-takoyaki full of that flavour! People often eat directly in front of the shop or take a walk around the near by shopping mall.
Goya Chanpuru in Okinawa
Goya chanpuru is an Okinawan stir fry dish made with bitter-melon, chunks of spam, scrambled eggs, and tofu. Carrots, bean-sprouts, onions, and other vegetables are often added to the stir-fry. Chapuru, which is the Okinawan for ‘mixed,’ is often used to describe the culture of Okinawa which is a mixture of native Okinawan, Chinese, Japanese, and North American Influences.
Goya Chanpuru is often made to order. Vegetarians can ask if the chef can make the dish without meat (or even without eggs if you are vegan). If you are not a fan of this bitter melon, try Fu-Chanpuru which is made with a reconstituted block of dried wheat glutton.
Famous Spots: When in Okinawa look for places that serve ‘Okinawa Katei Ryori’ which means home-style Okinawan food. Usually home-style restaurants in Okinawa will offer delicious meals at reasonable prices with local flaie that will make your trip all the more special.