In Japan, "B-kyu gourmet" refers to a type of food that tastes delicious, but is inexpensive and easy to eat.
Some B-class gourmet foods are obscure and only known by the locals. We take a look at several of the best B class gourmet restaurants in Japan, from north to south.
Hokkaido / Tohoku Area
Hokkaido, with its rich natural environment, is full of delicious B Class gourmet foods.
Obihiro Pork Bowl - Hokkaido
Obihiro Pork Bowl is filled with thick pork and topped with a sweet and spicy soy sauce and is a specialty of Obihiro. It is a completely different kind of pork bowl, and cannot be found elsewhere in Japan.
A common feature amongst the many variations of Obihiro pork bowls in the area is the thickness and quantity of pork and the sweet and spicy soy sauce. The combination of sweet and spicy sauce, juicy pork and white rice are irresistible.
The Obihiro pork bowl has a long history, dating back to 1933 when the founder of the original pork bowl restaurant "Pancho" started serving it. Currently, there are more than 40 Obihiro Pork Bowl restaurants in the city, but the original Pancho is the most popular among them.
Towada Barayaki - Aomori Prefecture
Towada Barayaki is made by grilling onions and beef ribs on a griddle with a sweet and spicy soy sauce. The dish emerged after the end of WWII at a food stall in Misawa City, Aomori Prefecture. The onions are grilled first, and when they are cooked, the beef is added and sizzled with the sauce, and once browned it is fried. The golden ratio of ingredients is said to be 1.5 onions to 1 beef belly. Generally, onions and beef ribs are used, but recently green peppers, carrots, cabbage and bean sprouts are also added. Garlic and apples from Aomori are also used in the soy sauce sauce. Each restaurant has its own original recipe.
Tsukishima Monja - Tokyo
Monjayaki can be found all over Japan, but one of the most famous is found in Tsukishima, Tokyo, called Tsukishima Monja.
After vegetable oil is poured on a hotplate, the ingredients are spooned onto the plate and fried. When the cabbage starts to soften, a doughnut-shaped dam is formed with the ingredients. The batter is then poured into the middle of the doughnut dam. The ingredients are then gradually mixed together with the dough and spread flat on the griddle to finish. A small spatula is used in the place of a spoon by pressing down on the dough and scraping it off of the hotplate.
Grilling monja requires a bit of finesse, so if you are a first timer, have the store owner grill the first piece and teach you how to cook it.
Sanma-men - Kanagawa Prefecture
Sanma-men is a dish that was served as a side dish at Chinese restaurants in Yokohama before World War II, and became a menu item after the war. The name of the dish may lead you to think that it contains saury, a type of fish, but in fact it does not. It is a dish of fried vegetables such as bean sprouts and Chinese cabbage, topped with bean jam, and then served over soy sauce-based noodles. Bean sprouts are an essential ingredient in Samma-men, which are stir-fried until they are crunchy and have a crispy texture even after being covered in bean paste.
In addition to bean sprouts and bok choy, there are also brightly colored Sanma-men with vegetables such as kikurage, carrots, bamboo shoots and chives. The Chinese restaurant Gyokusen-tei, founded in the Taisho era (1912-1926), is the birthplace of Sanma-men, and eventually spread throughout Kanagawa Prefecture.
Shinetsu / Hokuriku Area
Oyaki - Nagano Prefecture
Oyaki is made by stir frying vegetables and wild plants, seasoning with miso or soy sauce, wrapping everything in a dough made of flour or buckwheat and then baking. The size of the pastry is about 10cm in diameter and is popular in Nagano Prefecture as a breakfast or snack. Steaming or frying the oyaki, instead of baking, are also common. Sweet oyakis with red bean paste or pumpkin paste as filling can also be found.
As the number of tourists visiting Nagano Prefecture has increased, oyaki has become a popular souvenir of Nagano, and specialty oyaki stores have appeared. Recently, there has been a richer variety, including curry and cheese flavors.
Itoigawa Black Yakisoba - Niigata Prefecture
Itoigawa Black Yakisoba is made with local squid and their squid ink from the Sea of Japan. The fresh squid ink has no fishy smell and is reputed to be rich and delicious.
The yakisoba calls for Chinese noodles, squid, and squid ink. Sometimes, tomato paste or curry is added. You can expect each restaurant to have their own original recipe.
Tsukitoku Hanten, located near Itoigawa Station, is so popular among the locals that a long winding line forms during lunch time. The black yakisoba served at this restaurant is filled with crunchy bean sprouts, cabbage, onions, squid meat and gizzards, and the squid ink sauce is rich and goes well with the yakisoba.
Fujinomiya Yakisoba - Shizuoka Prefecture
Fujinomiya yakisoba is a local dish that has been around for a long time, and was given the name "Fujinomiya yakisoba" in 1999 with the aim of revitalizing the town through food. The difference from ordinary yakisoba is the firmness of the noodles. While most yakisoba noodles are steamed and then boiled, Fujinomiya yakisoba noodles are not boiled, but are cooled quickly and the surface is hardened with oil. After the war, when there were problems with refrigeration technology, this method was developed in order to make the noodles last longer.
Fujinomiya yakisoba noodles must be steamed, manufactured by one of the four different noodle makers in the city and use Fujinomiya's highland cabbage to be considered as genuine. The yakisoba has meat scraps added and sprinkled with sardine shavings. Fujinomiya yakisoba is very well known and is the dish that sparked the local gourmet boom.
Ogura Toast - Aichi Prefecture
Ogura toast is a sweet toast topped with red bean paste. There are three types of toast: a slightly thicker piece of toast with margarine or butter and Ogura red bean paste on it, a sandwich type with Ogura red bean paste on two pieces of toast, and a type like Komeda Coffee where the toast and the red bean paste are served separately and the paste is spread by the customer.
Ogura toast is also a popular menu item at Komeda Coffee, a famous Japanese coffee shop from Nagoya. Ogura toast can be found all over Japan, so it is quite well known. It is served at a wide range of stores from long-established coffee shops to casual cafes.
If you want to have a photo-worthy Ogura toast, Coffee House Kako is the place to go. The cafe serves buttered toast topped with Ogura bean paste, fresh cream, and four kinds of homemade confiture.
Takoyaki - Osaka
Takoyaki is a flour dough filled with octopus and baked into a round shape about 3-5 cm in diameter.
Takoyaki is available all over Japan, but Osaka's takoyaki, the birthplace of the dish, is characterized by its soft and fluffy outside and inside. Most takoyaki in Osaka are made fresh on the spot after the order is placed. The ingredients used are octopus and tenkasu, topped with red ginger and green onions. It is eaten with bamboo skewers or toothpicks.
Kinugasa-don - Kyoto Prefecture
Kinugasa-don is a bowl of rice topped with sweet Kyoto-style deep-fried tofu and kujo green onions tossed with egg. It is rich in flavor because of the use of Kyoto's thick and delicious deep-fried tofu.
Kinugasa-don is a B-kyu gourmet dish that is well known locally, but almost unknown throughout Japan. In Kyoto, it can be found in popular restaurants, udon shops and soba shops. As for the origin of Kinugasa-don, there is a theory that it was invented by craftsmen in Nishijin so that they could eat it quickly. Another theory is that it was made for actors in Uzumasa so that they could have a full meal in a short time between filming.
Chugoku / Shikoku Area
Tsuyama Hormone Udon - Okayama Prefecture
Tsuyama Hormone Udon is a combination of grilled guts (hormone) and udon noodles. Tsuyama has prospered as a distribution center for cattle and horses since long ago. Since there is a slaughterhouse in the city, hormones, for which freshness is important, are known for their high quality.
The locals have been eating hormone-yaki, grilled on a teppan hotplate since just after the war, with udon noodles as the final dish. This is the original form of Tsuyama hormone udon. Today, Tsuyama hormone can be found in over 50 restaurants in Tsuyama City. Each restaurant makes its own special sauce to create its signature taste.
Hashino Shokudo, which has been in business for over 120 years, is a Tsuyama hormone udon restaurant that is often featured by various media outlets. The combination of the spicy miso sauce and the plump hormone is very popular.
Hormone Tempura - Hiroshima Prefecture
Hormone tempura is fresh hormone battered and deep-fried. Because the fresh hormones are carefully prepared, there is no undesirable smell and the flavor and unique texture of each piece can be enjoyed. It is served with ponzu sauce with chili peppers or vinegar and soy sauce. There are many kinds of hormone such as mino, semmai, chigimo, hachinosu and obyaku, but the most popular is the mino tempura called "white meat".
Hormone tempura is a B-grade gourmet dish famous in the Nishi Ward of Hiroshima City, around Fukushima and Kannon towns. The price is reasonable at around 120 yen per piece.
Kyushu / Okinawa Area
Finally, we take a look at B-grade gourmet foods from the southern tip of Japan.
Hakata Udon - Fukuoka Prefecture
Hakata udon is a very soft udon. In Japan, most udon noodles have a firm texture. But the udon in Fukuoka is so fluffy that it is described as "something to drink". This may surprise those who are familiar with udon in general in Japan. The soup is made from niboshi (dried sardines), mackerel flakes, dried bonito flakes, ago (flying fish), and kombu (kelp) and finished with light soy sauce. This sauce goes perfectly with the soft noodles. It is topped with gobo-ten (burdock root tempura), maruten (fish paste tempura), sweet and spicy seasoned beef and plenty of green onions.
Hakata Ramen is famous all over Japan, but Fukuoka Prefecture also has a B-grade gourmet dish called Hakata Udon that is often enjoyed. People in Fukuoka love udon, so there are many udon restaurants in the prefecture.
Zenzai - Okinawa Prefecture
Zenzai is usually served warm and is a sweet soup-like dish. In Okinawa, however, zenzai is a dessert made with shaved ice, kidney beans and a white egg on top. It is characterized by its chewy kidney beans, which are sweetened with brown sugar. There are various types of zenzai, from those topped with kidney beans and white flour balls, to those with plenty of kidney beans inside when you dig through the shaved ice. Okinawa's zenzai is said to have its roots in "Amagashi," which was eaten on May 4th of the lunar calendar during "Yukkanuhi," an Okinawan wish-fulfilling event to report on the growth of children and ask the gods and ancestors to continue to watch over them.
Amagashi can be found at many restaurants and cafes as well as traditional Zenzai specialty stores.
B-kyu Gourmet: The Local Soul Food
B-kyu gourmet in Japan is delicious, yet inexpensive and easy to eat. The dishes introduced here are just a few of many available throughout Japan. Each represents a bit of history and the local soul of the people and are a great way to introduce authenticity to your travels.