Off the Beaten Track in Tohoku

Foodie hotspots: Akita City, Yuzawa, Yokote.


Foodies Look Out For: Kiritanpo nabe; Hatahata sandfish; Inaniwa udon; Shottsuru; Hatahata-zushi; Damakko nabe; Hinai-dori chicken.


The Basics: Long isolated from the rest of Japan due to its remote location away from major population centers, Akita is relaxed, and rarely appears atop tourist itineraries. All the more reason to visit. At year end Akita celebrates the Namahage demon festival, especially on the Oga peninsula. The hairy demons arrive each year to steal the blisters of lazy folk who have spent too much time sitting at the charcoal brazier.


Foodies Go Akita:

Akita produces some of the country’s top-quality rice, most notably the Akita Komachi variety, and its sake I equally good, renowned for its characteristic depth and sweetness. Amanoto, Tenju and Dewatsuru are some of the best known.            

The scaleless, sticky, quite odd-looking hatahata sandfish is a mainstay of Akita cuisine. Its name incorporates the Chinese characters for 'sakana' fish and ‘kaminari’ thunder. Thus in Akita is called the kaminari-uo lightning fish, named for the regular thunderstorms that take place during the spawning season. It is commonly served as sushi.

Shottsuru is a form of shoyu distilled from sandfish, thus somewhat akin to Thailand’s nam plaa or Vietnam’s nuoc mam, and is considered Akita’s unique specialist product. The Noto-Hanto peninsula of Ishikawa produces a similar fish-based shoyu, in fact, called ishiru. Shottsuru nabe hotpot contains hatahata, negi scallions, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms.

The prefectural dish is kiritampo a kind of stew in which cylindrical tubes of sticky rice are wrapped around wooden skewers and served with vegetables, chicken, mushrooms, and often whatever comes to hand. It's hearty, tasty fare. Damakko nabe is a similar dish in which kiritampo is replaced with small white balls of rice said to resemble snowballs.

Inaniwa town has been making the slightly flat, slippery white version of udon wheat noodles since 1665. The best place to sample them, and watch them being created, is at Sato Yosuke Honten in Yuzuwa, or at the same company's Urushigura restaurant and lacquer ware museum in Yokote. Sweet lovers look out for Akita city's 120-year old Eitaro Shoten and their range of wagashi Japanese sweets.



The Akita Budget Gourmet

Recently Akita has been promoting itself as a center for yakisoba fried noodles. Yokote Yaki Soba and Ogaya Shottsuru Yakisoba in which the noodles contain wakame seaweed and konbu dashi are popular. They are said to be inspired by the appearance of Namahage.


The Ramen Professor Recommends: Jumonji ramen features a fish-based shoyu broth, katsuobushi, niboshi and konbu kelp. Marutama Shokudo and Marutake Shokudo, both in Yokote, are popular.


FGL Favorite Tipple: Despite the fame of the local sake, around half of the prefecture's manufacturers are reported to be facing hardship, as the youthful workers needed to make sake head in droves to the nation's urban centers. Let's thus support the likes of Amanoto, Dewatsuru, and Tenju, all excellent.


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