The Chugoku region, surrounded by the sea, is located at the western end of Honshu. It is also a region with large variations in topography and climate. In this article, we will take a closer look at the characteristics of the food of the Chugoku region and several of its most famous dishes.
What the Chugoku Region Has to Offer
The Chugoku region consists of Okayama, Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane, and Yamaguchi prefectures. The mountains spread out to the east and west, and Tottori, Shimane, and northern Yamaguchi prefectures to the north are called the Sanin region, while Okayama, Hiroshima, and southern Yamaguchi prefectures to the south are called the Sanyo region.
The Sanin region receives heavy snowfall with the northern area facing the Sea of Japan. The Sanyo region receives little rainfall and has many sunny days. The southern part of the Sanyo region faces the Seto Inland Sea. The region is also rich in historical buildings and nature, such as Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture, Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori Prefecture, and Izumo Taisha Shrine in Shimane Prefecture. Being sandwiched between the Sea of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea, the area is blessed with delicious and diverse seafood.
In the following, we will explore the characteristics of each region's cuisine and famous dishes. These are all must-try foods!
Specialty Products of Okayama
Rice has been cultivated in the Chugoku region since long ago and is home to the famous Koshihikari brand of rice. As for agricultural products, eggplant, lotus root, and shiitake mushrooms are actively cultivated. Yellow chives are particularly delicious as well. While chives are usually green, when grown without exposure to sunlight, they become soft and yellow, as they are in Okayama Prefecture. The chive harvest is limited, so if you ever have a chance to visit the area, see if any are available.
Mamakari sushi is a dish made with sappa, a small fish, and sushi rice. Sappa can be eaten with its bones. It is said that the name "Mamakari" comes from the nickname of sappa, which are endearingly called mamakari in Japanese.
To explain, in the local dialect of Okayama Prefecture, rice is called "mama" and borrowing something from someone is called "kariru". The sappa fish was nicknamed "Mamakari," because they are so delicious that if you have some, then it was imperative to go borrow some rice to eat it with. Mamakari sushi is an indispensable dish for celebrations.
Specialty Products of Hiroshima
Hiroshima Prefecture faces the Seto Inland Sea, and because of its mountainous terrain, both agriculture and fisheries are well developed. One of the most famous foods are oysters, which are actively cultivated in Hiroshima Prefecture. The prefecture is also known for its fruit cultivation, including oranges, grapes and figs.
Claypot oysters is a dish of oysters, tofu and a variety of vegetables cooked in a pot, the rim of which is coated in miso paste. The miso on the rim allows you to adjust the heaviness of the flavor to your liking. This dish is not only available in restaurants, but is a dish commonly found in the home kitchen. Oysters that have absorbed the miso-flavored broth are rich in umami. Besides cooking in a claypot, there are other ways to eat oysters. Oysters are delicious steamed or grilled, and can also be eaten raw if they are fresh and in season.
Specialty Products of Tottori
Tottori Prefecture boasts a thriving agricultural scene. Rice, vegetables, and fruits of all kinds are grown here. Watermelon, rakkyo and shiitake mushrooms are some of the local specialties. Dairy farming is also carried out at the foot of the mountains. Facing the Sea of Japan, Matsuba crab, squid, and sardines are abundantly caught.
Daisen Okowa is a dish made with ingredients from the foot of the mountain called Daisen, cooked with glutinous rice. The ingredients used vary from household to household, but chicken, carrots, and burdocks are often added. It is seasoned with soy sauce and sugar. There is a Japanese concept of vegetarian cuisine which refers to dishes that are eaten mainly by buddhist practitioners who do not use meat, fish, or other animal-derived ingredients in accordance with Buddhist beliefs. Originally, Daisen Okowa was one of the vegetarian dishes, and it is thought to have evolved into what it is today once it was adopted by households.
Specialty Products of Shimane
Izumo Taisha, located in Shimane Prefecture, is famous for its monument to the god of relationships and marriage. In the area where Izumo Taisha is located, there is Lake Shinji, which is a mixture of fresh and saltwater, and is a great source of sea bass, shijimi clams, and pond smelt. Rice and melons are also grown here.
Izumo soba is a dish of buckwheat noodles served in a thick broth with green onions, dried bonito flakes and grated red leaves. It is considered one of the three best soba in Japan, along with wanko soba from Iwate Prefecture and togakushi soba from Nagano Prefecture. Buckwheat seeds, the raw material for soba, can be grown even in poor soil. For this reason, it is said that soba has been a part of the Japanese diet since the Heian period (794-1185), over 1000 years ago.
While buckwheat noodles in other regions are often made by peeling the shells off the buckwheat seeds before grinding them into flour, Izumo buckwheat noodles are made with the shells still intact. This makes the soba darker and more fragrant than ordinary soba.
Specialty Products of Yamaguchi
Yamaguchi Prefecture is surrounded by the sea, and as such has a thriving fishing industry. The most iconic catch is the puffer fish. These can be eaten raw as sashimi or boiled in broth with rice. The pufferfish is poisonous, so it is necessary to be a qualified chef to handle and cook it. Eating puffer fish became widespread when Japan's first prime minister, Hirobumi Ito, was so impressed with the taste of the fish that he allowed it to be eaten.
As for agricultural products, Iwakuni lotus root, mandarin oranges, and chestnuts are cultivated.
Iwakuni sushi is a dish made by placing alternating layers of vinegared rice and various ingredients in a large box, and weighing it down to make it firm. The top of the box is decorated with baked and thinly sliced boiled eggs, Iwakuni lotus root and shiitake mushrooms. It is also known for being a dish that can be prepared for large groups of people at once, sometimes using more than 7 kg of rice.
Dishes that Reflect the Richness of Nature
With the Japan Sea, Seto Inland Sea, and lakes, the Chugoku region is rich in marine products. The marine products grown in the area are blessed with high water quality which produce excellent products. There are also vegetables and fruits that are second to none, with preparation methods that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Make a visit and experience the charm of the people and foods of the Chugoku region.