Foodie hotspots: Toyama, Himi, Toyama Bay, Namerikawa, Uozu, Unazuki, Takaoka, Tonami, Tateyama, Nanto.
Foodies Look Out For: Hotaruika firefly squid; shiroebi shrimp; masuzushi trout sushi, buri yellowtail, especially in the dish buri daikon; Toyama Black Ramen; sweetfish narezushi; local sake; Unazuki beer.
The Basics: Until recently it was difficult to access Toyama from Japan’s urban centers, unless you were prepared to take the infrequent Raicho 'Thunderbird’ express train up from Osaka and Kyoto. Now, with the completion of a large part of the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train route, it is just several hours from Tokyo. Like all Hokuriku, it’s worth the trip.
Foodies Go Toyama: There’s a lovely illustrated poster on the wall here at FGL HQ, published by the Fishermen’s Co-operative of Himi Port, Toyama Prefecture. From madai in the top left, to akagarei in the bottom right, and from madara in the top right, to shijimi bottom right, it details the fish and shellfish one might expect to catch or harvest over twelve months. There are 104 species. And these are just the common varieties.
Clearly Toyama loves its marine products. Yet it is also a prefecture of high, snow capped mountains, highland pastures and crystal clear rivers running down to the sea. Foodies are spoilt for choice in Toyama. The Himi Banyagai complex in Himi city is a must visit for fresh fish fans. It also boasts its own sake brewery and hot-spring. How cool is that?
Top of the list of gourmet delights is hotaru-ika, the firefly squid, and its attendant cuisine. Yari-ika spear-squid and surume-ika are other common and popular varieties. Squid is prepared in any number of ways throughout the year. A classic dish is ika no karashi sunomono, with spicy karashi mustard and vinegar, or cooked in rice with dashi as ika-meshi. Teppoyaki, literally ‘pistol-cooked’, is a dish where the squid is stuffed with meat, fish or chicken and vegetables and grilled whole.
In spring it is possible to wander down to the seafront at night in Toyama and watch the firefly squid shoaling in their luminescent glory. Alternatively you can pop down to the Hotaruika Firefly Squid Museum, to observe the wee fellers in the aquarium before consuming them in the same complex's restaurant Kousai! If you want to take some home, Kawamura Suisan and Hamaura Suisan are the places to shop.
Buri daikon is a perfect example of a Japanese dish where produce of the sea and produce of the land meet in perfect harmony. In Toyama in late autumn and early winter, buri yellowtail from Toyama Bay is slowly simmered with daikon radish and shoyu to create a fabulously tasty nimono dish. It is prepared nationwide, but Toyama’s is said to be finest. Sushi Kappo Nanba in Toyama, and the splendid Hashimotoya Ryori Ryokan in Himi are great places to sample all the gourmet delights that Toyama Bay has to offer.
The Toyama mountains provide gourmets with ayu sweetfish, especially ayu no kanro-ni simmered in sake and soy sauce, and ayu no narezushi where it is fermented into a powerfully aromatic – some would say ‘stinky’ sushi. Try it, and other fabulous sweetfish dishes at Kawakin in Tonami city.
Another inland favorite is masuzushi, sushi made from freshwater trout. When fresh it is superb. The no-frills Masuichi Sushi Honpo out in Toyama city's Koizumi-cho, and Matsukawa in the middle of the city in Hatagomachi are both good. If you feel like taking some on the train, stop in at Aoyama Souhonpo next to the Toyama Ekimae Post Office.
If you fancy some gourmet alpine fare in situ, the Hotel Mori no Kaze in Tateyama creates excellent sosaku ryori artisanal cuisine using local produce. It is not expensive.
For a completely different experience, try the Kenkozen lunch set at Yakuto on the second floor of traditional medicine merchant Ikedaya Yasubei Shoten. Toyama has a long history of medicine production, and yakuzen ryori 'medicinal cuisine' was long practiced here. After falling into neglect, of late yakuzen - or at least 'healthy eating' - is making something of a comeback. The cafe Chunchundo and more upmarket Gomangoku Honten are two good options for the health-conscious traveller.
The Toyama Budget Gourmet
Of late a shiro-ebi white shrimp boom has swept the Prefecture, most notably in the BQ Gourmet favorite, the shiro-ebi burger. Toyama taking a leaf out of the book from the people at the Golden Arches, we believe. Check out the 'Jewel of Toyama Bay' at Shiroebitei in Toyama JR station. Boteyan Tanaka in Toyama city has become popular for its rectangular, mayonnaise-smothered okonomiyaki.
The Ramen Professor Recommends: This is a tricky one. ‘Toyama Black’ is exceptionally popular, and has spawned hordes of imitators across the country, with its salty soy broth. Just one problem. We hated it. Perhaps our visit to Nishi-cho Taiki Honten was an off day, but the broth was so sodium-filled that it threatened to melt our chopsticks and strip the enamel off our teeth. We hope you have better luck! The locals - and it was full - appeared to love it.
FGL Favorite Tipple: Local favorites Masuda Shuzo's Masuizumi and Nanto city's quaint small-batch Narimasa, but we like Kiyoto Shuzo's Kachikoma from Takaoka city. We are also partial to the occasional Unazuki beer, from the Unazuki Bakushukan.
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