The Japanese archipelago stretches from north to south, giving a variety of climate. Different regions have their own traditions of agriculture, produce and recipes. So in addition to the traditional Japanese dishes found throughout the country, many regions and cities in Japan have their own specialities. Be sure to try the local dishes – it makes a trip round Japan into a culinary adventure!
Ramen shops are common all over Sapporo and other towns in Hokkaido, selling the noodles in miso, soy, or salt-flavoured soups. Indeed Sapporo has its famous Ramen Yokocho or “Ramen Alley”, a narrow passageway with wall-to-wall ramen shops decorated with the signatures of celebrity customers.
The three types of ramen originate from different cities in Hokkaido:
- Miso Ramen – A combination of miso, garlic and noodles, from Sapporo. Also served with slices of barbecue pork.
- Soy Sauce Ramen – from Asahikawa, with broth made from soy sauce and fish stock.
- Salt Ramen – from Hakodate, Japan’s premier ramen town. With a lightly salted broth.
Originally a children’s treat, monjayaki is now established as a speciality of the Tsukishima area of Tokyo (near Ginza).
It’s a “cook it yourself” dish: ingredients such as dried squid, sweetcorn and cabbage are cooked on the hotplate. Then a runny batter is poured into a hollow in the middle. It is all scraped around with a small spatula, and eaten off the spatula as it is cooked. Tasty and fun.
Yudofu is a warming dish – one of the main winter hotpot dishes in Japan, particularly in Kyoto where the winters are very cold. Tofu is put in a kelp-based soup, taken out before it softens and dissolves too much and dipped in sauce. Unable to eat meat or fish for religious reasons, Buddhist priests in Kyoto ate this as a precious source of protein; nowadays many long-established restaurants offer delicious boiled tofu in Kyoto.
These are octopus dumplings, made by pouring a flour and stock batter onto a special iron plate with holes in it, adding chunks of octopus together with chopped onions, cabbage and pickled ginger, and baking them into balls by rolling them over as they cook. The baked batter is crispy and spicy on the outside and soft inside, giving the dumplings a unique, crunchy texture and taste. Served with toppings such as green seaweed, sauce or sliced and dried bonito, or even mayonnaise. As the octopus dumplings of Kansai are small and easy to eat, they have become a popular dish throughout Japan.
In Hiroshima, okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) were popular even before the 2nd World War. But during the food shortages after the war, people developed these pancakes into a meal, adding additional ingredients such as cabbage, egg, seafood and noodles, which is how the present style was established. The Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki has a six-layered structure, with flour batter, cabbage, then the main ingredients plus noodles and more flour batter, then turned over and flattened. Nutritious, filling and varied with a range of flavoured sauces according to your taste.
Kagawa on the island of Shikoku is famous as the origin of Sanuki-udon, and has many udon (wheat-flour noodle) makers and restaurants. Sanuki wheat-flour noodles are noted for their strong body and smooth texture. A kelp-based soup seasoned with light soy sauce is poured over the noodles: leeks, ginger, egg or sesame seeds can be added. There are many varieties of toppings, including seafood or vegetable tempura. Kagawa has many self-service udon restaurants, with very reasonable prices (around Yen 100 to 200 per bowl, without toppings).
This dish of plain boiled chicken originated in Hakata (Fukuoka) back in the Meiji Era, inspired by Western consommé and Chinese chicken dishes. Pieces of chicken and vegetables are dropped into a chicken stock soup and then picked out and dipped in ponzu(citrus vinegar sauce) and condiments such as chopped leek. After the chicken and vegetables have been taken out, rice can be put in the remaining stock, to make a sort of savoury porridge with a tasty chicken flavour.
After sake, the second most popular alcoholic drink in Japan is shochu. Honkaku shochu, (authentic shochu) has a “rustic” flavour from ingredients such as wheat, sweet potatoes, buckwheat or black sugar. Imo-shochu from Kagoshima and Miyazaki on the island of Kyushu is mostly produced from sweet potatoes. Potato shochu from Kagoshima is called satsuma shochu, with a unique flavour and sweetness and is a popular drink with either ice or hot water.
Champuru is an Okinawan word meaning roughly “mix.” Champuru dishes are a mixture of various ingredients fried together, and usually named after the main ingredient. The most common types of champuru in Okinawa are goya (bittermelon) champuru, with a bitter taste but said to be healthy, particularly in the hot summer; tofu champuru, and somen champuru, which is fried thin somen noodles mixed with tuna, egg, chopped pork and other things. The basic champuru concept is easily variable, and many locals have their own favourite recipe.
Distilled from rice and with a high alcohol content, awamori is unique to Okinawa. Strength can be up to 60% alcohol. The most popular way to drink it is with water and ice, or mixed with the island’s delicious tropical juices.