Foodie hotspots: Mito, Hitachi, Kanasago, Omitama.
Foodies Look Out For: Hitachi beef; all kinds of sea fish, but especially young anchovy and anglerfish; natto fermented soybeans; carp burgers.
The Basics: “Whenever you meet someone from Ibaragi,” I was once told, “they’ll feel the need to tell you where it is.” Actually, they do. It’s above Chiba on Japan’s Eastern coast, next to Tochigi, and most definitely a part of the Kita Kanto region. It would share a border with Tokyo, if it weren’t for a narrow arm of that pesky Saitama.
Foodies Go Ibaraki: In the Japanese public imagination, food-wise Ibaragi only means one thing, fermented soybeans, the famous, the infamous natto. It’s not an unfair judgement, perhaps, given the dramatic nature of that foodstuff. It does stand out.
However, it’s not all Ibaragi offers. Primarily, outside Mito, Tsukuba and Hitachi, it is farmland, and thus it is the source of much of Tokyo’s fruit and vegetable supply. It leads the nation in farming melons, renkon lotus root, piman green peppers and cultivated mitsuba trefoil, and supplies large quantities of gobo burdock root, lettuce, komatsuna, garlic and onions to Tokyo markets.
It is home to Hitachi kuro wagyu black beef, Kanasago buckwheat soba, Okukuji-shamo, a chicken prized in gourmet poultry dishes, and the ‘Andes’ and ‘Earl’ melons that fetch huge prices in specialist fruit stores.
Along the coastline, shirasu young anchovies and the luxury, magnificent anko anglerfish, yellowtail, abalone and Pacific saury are particularly renowned. In winter, look for crab and icefish. The Kaizen Hamazen restaurant inside the Hitachi Osakana Center in Hitachi’s Minami-machi, and the sushi outlets at the Nakaminato Fish Market in Hitachi Naka are unadorned, foodie heaven. Anko nabe, a hotpot made with anglerfish, is a local specialty. At its best, it is superb.
Mito is undoubtedly the spot to sample natto cuisine. Head to Mito Natto’s flagship store on the 3rd floor of the Excel Minami Shopping Center building for a fine selection of natto souvenirs. Tenmasa is an izakaya with two branches in the Sanyo building a few minutes’ walk North of Mito station that serves natto gozen platters, anko nabe hotpot, and ordinary izakaya fare. Takano Foods runs a Natto Museum in Omitama city, but it is some distance from Mito, and English info is limited. Back in town there’s something similar on the second floor of Tengu Natto Souhonnke in Sannomaru-cho. For the hardcore natto lover only. BTW, that's me.
The Ibaraki Budget Gourmet Carp burger, anyone? Ibaragi does well in the BQ Gourmet rankings. Try from: Tsuchiura Zeppelin Curry; Stamina Ramen; Tamegata burger with fish, pork or carp; Kenchin soba noodles; melon curry, hoshi natto, and Tsukuba’s Kujo Kome rice-based ‘Ice Cream’.
The Ramen Professor Recommends: Shoga ramen with a strong ginger base is highly popular at Nanokura in Koga, whilst Aoi in Tsukuba is also in favor, not least with the city's elite scientists. Don't be surprised if you are seated at the counter between a truck driver and a particle physicist.
FGL Favorite Tipple: Hitori Musume, Wataribune, Sudo Honke's Satonohomare, and Tsukuba are best.
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