Foodie hotspots: Sendai, Matsushima, Kessenuma, Ishinomaki and the Sanriku coastline.
Foodies Look Out For: Oysters and oyster cuisine; fresh sea fish of all kinds; Sake no arajiru and other hearty hotpot dishes; Matsushima wagyu and Sendai-gyu beef;
The Basics: Notwithstanding its remote location, Miyagi Prefecture, and in particular its main city of Sendai, has long been a prosperous and influential region of Tohoku. Sendai’s population is in excess of a million, making it Northern Japan’s most cosmopolitan center. That said, the surrounding countryside and the Sanriku ocean coastline are as ‘Deep North’ as any, and thus perfect for adventurous foodies.
Foodies Go Miyagi: If you are fond of your kaki oysters, along with Hiroshima, Miyagi is the place to head. In particular the waters of Matsushima Bay are famed for producing the best quality oysters. Generally they are eaten raw, served up in kaki-ryori oyster cuisine, particularly in nabe hoptpots, or else served with rice as kaki meshi. A particularly fine dish is kaki-furai, oysters deep-fried in batter. It is common and often inexpensive, but when well done, absolutely fabulous.
The season for Matsushima oysters is late-October to mid-March. One of the best, and least expensive places to find them is at the splendidly entitled Matsushima Tourist Association Oyster Shack in Higashihama-cho, Matsushima.
Like much of the Tohoku district of Northern Honshu, Miyagi loves its hearty stews/broths/soups. Sake no arajiru is salmon-based, junenjiru contains the egoma plant familiar in Korean cuisine, and oborojiru is a broth containing runny, half-melted tofu. The latter in the depth of winter is just fantastic. Also try hotto nabe containing gyoza pastry and/or wonton noodles.
Sendai-zouni is a stew rich in vegetables with daikon radish, carrot and gobo burdock, in a dashi stock made from grilled haze goby fish caught in Matsushima Bay. Donko-jiru is a Sanriku coast specialty hotpot made with the particularly ugly donko brown hakeling. Key to an authentic soup is including the fish liver, giving rise to the hakeling’s nickname as the ‘Foie Gras of the Ocean’. Try it, and indeed many of Matsushima Bay’s seasonal fresh fish, from 8am to 3pm at the food stands in the Matsushima Fish Market by the harbor.
Back on land, Miyagi’s beef is rated top class, with Matsushima wagyu in particular often compared favorably with Kobe and Matsuzaka’s finest. A popular beef dish in these parts is gyutanyaki, roasted ox tongue. Another local favorite, for mochi lovers, is zundamochi, sticky rice with sweet azuki beans.
Kessenuma, in the south of Miaygi Prefecture was badly destroyed by the tsunami tidal wave of March 11th, 2011. Though sales are back to over 90% of the pre-tsunami total, the major fishing port has yet to see significant reconstruction.
Don’t leave Miyagi without at least once trying its most famous product, Sendai miso. Dating back to the years of local warlord Date Masamune, Sendai Miso is a lustrous red color, and, at least to this reviewer’s palate, plenty salty. The rough aragoshi style is a favorite.
The Miyagi Budget Gourmet Look out for Ishinomaki yakisoba; gyutan curry; zundamochi; Sendai mabo yakisoba with spicy tofu; Sendai zuke-don;
The Ramen Professor Recommends: In Kesennuma, try the chuka soba specialist Maruki, opened with the aim of helping to revitalised the community devastated by the 2011 tsunami. In Sendai, Kaiichi chuka soba next to the Prefectural office, Fujiya South-west of Nishikicho-koen Park and Ramen Honkamado out in Iwakiri Omae are all worthy of praise.
FGL Favorite Tipple: Hagino Shuzo's Hagi no Tsuru Daiginjo, Abekan Tokubetsu Junmaishu, and the versatile (some like it hot) Uragasumi Honzozo, are all good.
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