5 Faves: Regional Specialties (Part 2)

As I mentioned in my previous post on regional specialties, I love to travel on the whims of my appetite and frankly, no other nation has as many different regional specialties as Japan. (I think. I mean, here, every TOWN practically has something.) So to add to the list I shared before, here are five more tasty dishes worth seeking out on your travels.

1. Kawara soba (Yamaguchi Prefecture)

Kawara soba (or tile soba) in Yamaguchi-ken
Kawara soba (or tile soba) in Yamaguchi-ken

Like your lunch cooked on a roof tile? Why not! This dish combines green tea soba topped with thinly sliced beef and strips of egg and dried seaweed, all served on a flat black dish. Allegedly, this noodle specialty originated during the Satsuma Rebellion when soldiers participating in the siege of Kumamoto Castle used roof tiles to cook their food on. How it came to be a popular dish for Yamaguchi (two prefectures to the north of Kumamoto) is beyond me, unless the enterprising soldiers were from that area.

2. Mehari-zushi (Wakayama Prefecture)

Mehari-zushi in a minshuku on the Kii Peninsula
Mehari-zushi in a minshuku on the Kii Peninsula

Not your typical fish-topped nigiri, this Wakayama specialty actually resembles stuffed grape leaves. Sushi rice is wrapped in mustard greens that have been pickled in salt and then soaked in soy sauce and mirin. These portable snacks were once popular among workers in the forests and fields, as well as with travelers on the Kii Peninsula’s many pilgrimage trails.

3. Shirokuma Shaved Ice (Kagoshima Prefecture)

A shirokuma dessert in Kagoshima city
A shirokuma dessert in Kagoshima city

Lest you think Japan can’t sate your sweet tooth, just take a few bites of this sugar-laden iced treat from southern Kyushu. Named after the polar bear it supposedly resembles, you can often find it topped with flavored syrups, red beans, and even chocolate and coconut.

4. Mamakari (Okayama Prefecture)

Mamekari sushi in Kurashiki
Mamakari sushi in Kurashiki

These sardine-like fish are a specialty of the Inland Sea, best consumed between February and April. They’re often prepared either grilled or with vinegar but if you visit Mamakari-tei in the canal town of Kurashiki, you can enjoy it in multiple preparations. It has quite a fishy taste, so if you order the sushi version, be warned.

5. Dango Jiru (Oita Prefecture)

Dangojiru in Yufuin
Dangojiru in Yufuin

This warm, miso-based soup – loaded with hand-made noodles and fresh veggies like carrots, mushrooms and daikon – is a specialty of Oita, but it’s common to find it in Western Kumamoto Prefecture as well. It’s become my go-to winter comfort food, and the dish can varying slightly depending on the town.

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