Foodie hotspots: Oita, Beppu, Taketa, Usuki, Saiki, Yufuin, Ajimu, Saganoseki, Hiji-machi, Usa, Nakatsu, Saeki.
Foodies Look Out For: Fugu blowfish, other fresh sea fish, ohan rice, yuzu kosho seasoning, kabosu citrus.
The Basics: The old school way to get to Oita from elsewhere in Japan is by ferry, either from Uwajima in Shikoku, or through the Seto-naikai inland sea from Osaka or Kobe, a fun way to travel even today. Otherwise it's a train ride from Fukuoka. Beppu is both a port town and a hot-spring (Japan's largest by volume of hot water boiling out of the ground), giving it something of a mildly 'salty old sea-dog', vaguely disreputable character. Thus, lots of fun. Yufuin, by contrast, is an elegant, quiet, rather village-like hot spring.
Foodies Go Oita: Hot-spring festooned Oita Prefecture uses its thermal waters to make onsen-tamago, spa-boiled eggs (perfect topped with ao-nori and a little dashi-ponzu), most notably in the port of Beppu. Also on the coast, Usuki and Saiki cities specialise in tora fugu raised in the narrow, fast-flowing Bungo Suido channel deep-fried or eaten as tessa sashimi.
The inland Taketa city is famous for atama-ryori, literally ‘head cuisine’, which uses the parts of seafish that would normally be discarded. Its entrails are salted and boiled, and eaten with a mix of grated daikon, chopped spring onion and shoyu, vinegar and sugar.
Even more exotic is Usuki’s ohan, rice that is boiled in water infused with the juice of gardenias, turning it bright orange! The practise arose in the late Edo-period when cash-strapped Usukiites could not afford adzuki beans. The resulting color appealed as it resembled the latest in Spanish gastronomic fashion, paella. Further seafish specialities are seki saba and seki aji mackerel raised off the coast of Saganoseki in the Bungo Suido channel, and shiroshita karei flounder caught in the freshwater off Hiji-jo castle, eaten as sashimi. Buri no atsumeshi features thick slices of raw yellowtail that have been marinated in a soy, sugar, vinegar, and sake mixture served atop hot white rice.
Prefecture-wide, dango-jiru is a miso soup containing dumplings made of yams, daikon and burdock. It is often accompanied by the renowned bungo-gyu marbled beef. Inland Yufuin and Ajimu both specialise in suppon-ryori snapping turtle served as nabemono, sashimi or deep-fried. The turtle blood mixed with alcohol is considered a ‘tonic’, ie, an aphrodisiac.
Don't leave Oita without sampling its excellent yuzu kosho 'pepper paste'. It is a rich, spicy, chili and citrus-filled condiment that goes brilliantly with soups, chicken dishes, and even oden. Traditionally it was made at home for family consumption, but is now available in shops across the prefecture.
Kabosu is a juicy, rather sour citrus, somewhat akin to lemon. It is normally used in sunomono vinegared food, with tempura, and/or with fish, and is primarily cultivated in Oita, especially in Usuki.
The Oita Budget Gourmet Tenobe dangojiru dumplings; Yufuin Burgers; Beppu reimen; gomadashi udon (especially in Saeki); Usa and Nakatsu kara'age.
The Ramen Professor Recommends: Ramen Ushigoro in the Oita Mart complex in Oita city offers a punchy shio salt ramen made with gyukotsu beef bone broth. Nabesan Ramen in the Hamawaki district of Beppu features a good, light tonkotsu ramen.
FGL Favorite Tipple: Oita is the home of Iichiko, the nation's most popular brand of shochu. We recommend its top of the range barley shochu, Frasco, straight on the rocks. sake fans should check out the mildly sweet Nishinoseki Junmaishu.
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