Foodie hotspots: Narita, Sakura, Boso Peninsula coastline, Chiba city, Takeoka, Choshi, Noda, Kozaki, Funabashi.
Foodies Look Out For: Fresh seafood, especially aji horse mackerel, bonito, abalone, sardines; aji no tataki sashimi; namerou raw fish with miso; soy sauce; some dodgy ‘budget gourmet’ options; Takeoka-shiki Ramen; eel cuisine; hishiko oshizushi, peanuts.
The Basics: Most visitors to Japan’s experience of Chiba Prefecture is likely to be Tokyo Disneyland or Narita Airport, yet it is not without its foodie attractions, especially as you head to the coast.
Foodies Go Chiba:
In an unusual historical side note, dairy farming began in Chiba back in 1728 when the Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa imported white Brahmin cows from India and began to use them for milk production. The dairymen of the Boso peninsula produced something called hakugyuraku, a primitive type of butter, and today greater Tokyo’s massive demand for dairy products is met, in no small part, by the prefecture’s farmers.
The Boso peninsula seacoast has long been a supplier of fresh fish to the nation’s capital, not least from its major fishing port of Choshi. In particular the region’s aji horse mackerel are prized, and the raw fish dish aji no tataki is a specialty, as are the coastline’s awabi abalone, Ise ebi spiny lobsters, iwashi sardines and katsuo bonito fish. Check out the Uosse 21 fish market, and the tiny restaurant Umibouzu that has become the darling of the Tokyo TV media.
Every prefecture has at least one representative dish and in Chiba’s case it is namerou, the ‘fisherman’s dish’, in which fresh fish such as sardines, mackerel and Pacific saury are very finely chopped with miso paste, leeks and ginger and served raw. Its popularity is said to have arisen, in part, because it makes a change from soy flavors. Find it, and other local Chiba dishes at Chizue in Chiba city. Tenshou in Funabashi city is also excellent.
Shoyu soy-sauce has long been produced in the Noda and Choshi districts. Any serious foodie who doesn’t mind taking the slow train from Tokyo out to Noda must visit Kikkoman’s Noda headquarters, and visit the Kikkoman Soy Sauce Museum. It has excellent information in English, by the way. Kinoene is a traditional maker, located not far from Atago Shrine. Their shirajoyu 'white shoyu' and Tosa shoyu are very pleasant alternatives to 'mainstream' soy sauces.
Chiba is also famed for unagi eel cuisine (Unagi Sakata out in the boonies of Inba-gun, and the lovely Surugaya in Narita are excellent), hishiko oshizushi in which hard-nosed sardines are pickled in miso, and the world’s most expensive peanuts.
The Chiba Budget Gourmet
Chiba does quite well on the not-so-appetizing BQ-gourmet front. Most eye-catching is undoubtedly the wholly unsavory – in every sense – kujira doggu, a whale meat hotdog originating in Minami Boso. Tateyama city’s Namerou ramen – noodles topped with raw fish meat and miso – sounds barely any better. By contrast, the asari manju, a bun stuffed with short-necked clams seems positively wholesome.
The Ramen Professor Recommends: Takeoka-shiki Ramen, made with dried rather than fresh noodles, served with a soy base and topped with lavish helpings of charshiu pork and chopped onions originated at Umenoya in Takeoka. It’s a tiny place on Route 127 with just two tables. People start waiting in line soon after it opens at 10am.
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