Foodie hotspots: Morioka, Hanamaki, Oshu Maesawa, Ichinoseki, Ichidoriya-cho, Yuda Onsen hot spring, Ofunato, Tono.
Foodies Look Out For: Wanko-soba buckwheat noodles; Morioka reimen; Jajamen; Nambu-hitsumi stew; Maesawa beef; Nambu Toji sakes.
The Basics: Iwate often seems to fall under the tourist radar, but with plenty to offer the curious foodie, you might want to check out this part of North-Eastern Tohoku. Especially if you like noodles.
Foodies Go Iwate:
Expect to be greeted at an Iwate restaurant with the salutation Yogu oden shitana han the totally impenetrable local dialect equivalent of “Yoku oide kudasaimashita,” “Welcome to our store”.
The Prefectural city is Morioka. It is the food capital too, and where buckwheat noodle lovers will certainly find Iwate’s famed wanko-soba, though it originated in nearby Hanamaki. It is still found there, and also in Ichinoseki. Served in small bowls, the noodles are delivered at a fast and furious pace one after the other. Try to keep up, and finally signal your satisfaction and/or imminent explosion by covering up your dish, or else the server will just keep adding more.
In February in Hanamaki and in November in Morioka, All-Japan wanko-soba eating contests take place. The champion has managed to consume 383 bowls in ten minutes, despite having a five-minute handicap over her rivals. A great place to sample wanko-soba is at Azumaya Honten in Morioka, wanko-soba specialist in business since Meiji 40. You can try to beat their competition record if you wish. It’s not against the clock, but you’ll have to surpass their customer Mr Nakashima’s tally, in 1996, of 559 consecutive bowls.
In summer, Morioka city specialises in a different kind of noodle, called Morioka reimen, which are served cold with beef, fruit and Korean kimchee pickles. Indeed, the dish was created in 1954 by a Korean resident chef, and it is uncharacteristically spicy for a Japanese dish. Try it at Seirokaku or Daidoen.
The third style of noodles in the triumvirate of “Three Great Noodles of Morioka” – as they are apparently known – is jajamen. Similar to udon wheat noodles, these originated from a Chinese dish, ja jieng mein, and come with a miso-meat topping. It’s common to add ginger, garlic, perhaps vinegar and a hot peppery oil. Jaja in Shinmei-cho is the place to go.
Nambu-hittsumi is the local nabe hotpot dish containing stewed vegetable dumplings. Oshu city is renowned for its Maesawa-gyu black beef (try Ogata Honten's restaurant Ajishin), and the prefecture also rears in excess of more than thirty varieties of pork, fed on mineral rich vegetables and, in one case, tochucha Chinese leaves, which result in particularly succulent pork.
Nambu-senbei are crackers made from wheat, and flavored with additional ingredients such as peanuts, black sesame or sugar syrup. Savory versions with shrimp or squid also exist.
Yuda Onsen hot spring prides itself on suppon-ryori, cuisine featuring the soft-shelled turtles that are raised in its thermal waters.
The Iwate Budget Gourmet Look out for Kitakami croquettes, the Hanamaki Burger, and various 'Genghis Khan' mutton dishes, such as those found at Jingisukan in Tono.
FGL Favorite Tipple: The Nanbu Toji (Iwate Master Brewers) rose from humble origins in Ishidoriya-cho to become one of the nation’s ‘big three’ unions of sake makers. Make sure to visit the Nanbu Toji Brewer Museum located inside the Hanamaki Ishidoriya Michi-no-Eki for tastings. We especially like Nanbu Bijin, Tsuki no Wa and Washi no O, 'the eagle's tail'.
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