Cities and prefectures throughout Japan have their own unique food cultures and special cuisines, that often make use of fresh local ingredients. When traveling Japan, trying out those local foods are a must in your itinerary. This article will introduce some of Akita prefecture’s local cuisines.
Akita is one of Japan's northernmost prefectures, known for its famous Kanto Matsuri festival, and Omagari fireworks festival. Here, we will introduce 5 delicious local specialty foods that can only be found in Akita!
About Akita prefecture
Akita prefecture is located in Japan's Tohoku (northeast) region, and its capital is Akita City. This northern prefecture has cooler summers and snowy winters.
Akita is well-known for its beautiful landscapes of mountain ranges and coasts, and its abundant nature has given birth to a rich culture of traditional foods too. The prefecture's "namahage" tradition is especially famous across Japan, in which people dressed as demons roam the neighborhoods on New Year's Eve to ward off evil spirits.
Local Dishes (Gotochi Gourmet) vs. Traditional Cuisines (Kyodo Ryouri)
Modern Japanese has two distinct categorizations for cuisines that are tied closely to a specific location. These two words are
"gotochi gourmet" (ご当地グルメ) and "kyodo ryori" (郷土料理), and loosely translate, respectively, to "local dishes" and "traditional cuisines"
The latter kyodo ryori, or traditional cuisines, are much older in lineage and have been loved by locals since much older times. They are often characterized by ingredients that can only be produced in their specific locale. These cuisines reflect the culture, history, and tradition of their background, and are great gateways into learning more about their regions.
On the other hand gotochi gourmet, or local dishes, are often developed as a means of regional promotion. Their histories tend to be much younger, and their nationwide recognition lower.
One of the most famous traditional dishes in Akita is the kiritanpo. There are several theories to origin of these cooked rice sticks, but one connects them to the practice of hunters in the mountains, rolling leftover rice into balls and cooking them in a hotpot.
The most famous way to eat kiritanpo: in a hotpot
Akita is one of the top rice producing prefectures in Japan, and this dish takes full advantage of that. The rice is cooked, mashed and wrapped around a wooden skewer, then grilled. Kiritanpo can then be eaten in a variety of ways. Keeping it simple and eating it with miso is great, but eating it in a "kiritanpo-nabe" hotpot with local Hinai chicken is exquisite too.
Recommended Restaurant: "Akita Kiritanpo-ya"
Akita Kiritanpo-ya in front of Akita Station
At Akita Kiritanpo-ya, locating right by Akita Station, you can try out many of Akita prefecture's local foods, such as kiritanpo.
Try the Matagi-no-Kiritanpo Hot Pot! “Matagi” is a northern Japanese word for hunter, and this hotpot is said to be replicating the real hotpot that these hunters made for themselves.
The Matagi-no-Kiritanpo uses miso paste in the soup, while the usual kiritanpo hotpot doesn’t. It also includes rabbit and boar meat, since it is a hunter’s meal (subject to change according to availability).
The restaurant itself is hunter-themed, too. On the walls, there are hunting and farming equipment. There are two branches in Akita City, and one is located conveniently in front of Akita Station.
2. Inaniwa Udon
Inaniwa udon; thinner than the average udon noodle
Inaniwa Udon is a thinner type of udon noodle that originated in the city of Yuzawa. It is made with flour, salt and starch and stretched out and cut by hand.
It was created in the Edo period about 340 years ago. At the time it was considered luxury meal, and was even gifted to the shogun.
Inaniwa Udon, served with dipping soup
Inaniwa udon is made by kneading, twisting, stretching and finally drying. The noodles are thin yet chewy and absolutely delicious.
Recommended Restaurant: "Sato Yosuke"
Sato Yosuke Sohonten (Photo credit: 佐藤養助商店)
Sato Yosuke has been specializing in udon for 150 years. The restaurant was founded by Sato Kichizaemon, who was greatly involved with developing the inaniwa udon culture.
There are 8 Sato Yosuke restaurants throughout Akita prefecture. There are even restaurants in Tokyo and Korea, but the main restaurant in Yuzawa is worth going to.
At the sohonten, or main restaurant, you can see the inaniwa udon creating process, and even experience parts of it.
3. Shottsuru Nabe
Cooked Shottsuru Hotpot
“Shottsuru” is a fermented fish sauce, and one of the most famous seasonings from Akita prefecture. Shottsuru Nabe is a hotpot dish using shottsuru.
In the hotpot, fish such as the hata-hata (Japanese sandfish) and a lot of veggies are cooked in a rich, fish-flavored broth. Shottsuru nabe is loved by locals as a healthy and heartwarming dish, especially during the cold Akita winters.
You can try shottsuru nabe at many traditional Akita cuisine restaurants throughout the prefecture.
4. Yokote Yakisoba
Yokote Yakisoba is one of Akita’s representative “gotochi gourmet” dishes. In fact, it has even won first place at the B-1 Grand Prix, a competition for the best “gotochi gourmet” (local dishes) in Japan.
Yokote yakisoba’s thick noodles
Yokote yakisoba, compared to the standard yakisoba dish (grilled noodles cooked with sauce), uses thicker noodles, and is topped off with a fried egg and fukujinzuke (relish using daikon, eggplants and more). The flavor of the sauce too, is milder than the standard yakisoba.
Eat yokote yakisoba like a local by mixing the yolk with the noodles underneath it. The thick, mild sauce goes amazing with the egg yolk.
Recommended Restaurant: "Ganso Kamiya Yakisoba-ya"
Ganso Kamiya Yakisoba-ya, in the city of Yokote, is said to be where the yokote yakisoba originated. It was created just after the Second World War.
In Yokote, a yokote yakisoba competition is held annually to decide the best yokote yakisoba restaurant of the year. Ganso Kamiya Yakisoba-ya has won in the past.
Ganso Kamiya Yakisoba-ya has several variations of yokote yakisoba, such as without the egg, with grilled tripe instead of ground meat, and so on.
Babahera Ice Cream
Babahera ice cream served in a rose shape
Babahera Ice Cream is sold usually during the summer time. “Baba” means grandma, and “hera” points to the spatula used to serve the ice cream. It is sold usually by the side of the road.
A banana flavored ice cream and a strawberry flavored ice cream is served together on one cone. The “baba” scoops the ice cream with the spatula, and some get creative and make rose-shaped ice cream cones.
Where to buy babahera ice cream
Look for the colorful parasols!
Babahera ice cream is not sold in specific brick-and-mortar shops, and for a taste of it, you will have to find one of these roadside stands. If you see an ice cream stand with a colorful parasol, then you’ve found a babahera ice cream stand.
You can typically find babahera ice cream stands by Highway 7. On events like fireworks festivals, babahera ice cream stands make an appearance too, so keep an eye out for the parasols.
Akita’s variety of local cuisines
Akita has all sorts of local cuisines using a plethora of local ingredients, due to the prefecture’s blessed coastal location and deep hills. There are still many more dishes that haven’t been introduced in this article, so head to Akita and check out their cuisine yourself!