The Kinki region is located in the western part of Honshu and is rich in many travel worthy destinations. However, the Kinki region has more to offer than just sightseeing with its unique and highly appreciated food culture.
Nature and Industry of Kinki
The Kinki region is made up of five prefectures; Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Mie, Shiga and Wakayama. Second only to the Kanto region, Kinki is the economic center of the country. The northern part of the region is mountainous, while the center is a low-lying area called the Osaka Plain. The plains are also susceptible to typhoons.
There are many historical monuments and structures in the area, especially in Kyoto and Nara prefectures where the capital was once located. Osaka, known as "the kitchen of the world," prospered because of its proximity to the capitals of Kyoto and Nara prefectures and its thriving agriculture. Even today, the impression of Osaka as a city of merchants remains strong. In other prefectures, there are many sightseeing spots and delicious foods that any traveler should definitely visit and taste. Agriculture, livestock breeding and fishing are carried out in diverse mountains, plains and bordering seas of Kinki.
In the sections that follow, we take a look at the dishes that make Kinki region stand out in its food culture.
Specialty Products of Osaka
Osaka Prefecture has many tourist attractions, from historical buildings to theme parks and gourmet towns, such as Osaka Castle, USJ theme park and Dotonbori road. Osaka is relatively warm throughout the year and very hot in the summer. Cucumber, kabu, gobo (burdock root), and shiso (perilla) are called "Naniwa vegetables," and there are varieties that have been produced in Osaka for over 100 years. Osaka is also loved for its flour-based cuisine, also known as "flour culture".
Here are some typical dishes of Osaka.
Okonomiyaki is a dish made by mixing flour with eggs and water, mixing in cabbage, pork, seafood, and other ingredients of your choice, and then cooking it on a griddle. A sauce or mayonnaise is applied to the cooked okonomiyaki, and bonito flakes and green laver are sprinkled on top.There are also sauces for okonomiyaki. Grated yam can be added instead of water to make the texture of the dough fluffier. In Osaka, there are many restaurants specializing in okonomiyaki.
Takoyaki is made by mixing flour with broth and eggs, pouring the batter into a special mold, and baking it with a bite-size piece of octopus. The batter is then poured into a special mold and grilled. The octopus is cooked while the batter is rotated to make a spherical shape with the octopus nestled inside. Takoyaki is eaten with sauce or mayonnaise on top. It is said that every household in Osaka has at least one takoyaki griddle, highlighting how takoyaki is a beloved soul food for the people of the prefecture.
Kushikatsu is a dish made by skewering various ingredients such as meat, vegetables, and seafood, dipping them in breadcrumbs, and deep-frying them in hot oil. The taste of the sauce varies from restaurant to restaurant. There is a rule that you should never double dip a kushikatsu skewer into the sauce.
Specialty Products of Kyoto
Kyoto Prefecture was once the capital of Japan, and many historical buildings are still preserved today. It is one of the most iconic tourist destinations in all of Japan, welcoming tens of millions of visitors throughout the world annually. It is famous for its brand-name vegetables called "Kyoto vegetables," green tea, and pickles made by pickling vegetables with salt and other ingredients.
Kyoto Prefecture places great importance on dashi (soup stock), and there are many dishes that make use of it. Udon soup is also characterized by its lighter color compared to the Kanto region.
To make Yudofu, tofu is placed in a pot with kelp and water and heated. Once the tofu is warm, it is dipped in a sauce and eaten. The sauce is usually soy sauce based, with green onions and bonito flakes added as desired. The simplicity of this dish allows the deliciousness of the kombu, water, and tofu to take center-stage.
Specialty Products of Hyogo
Hyogo Prefecture is known for its livestock breeding. Brand-name Tajima cattle, dairy cows and pigs are raised in Hyogo. In the Tamba area, beans and eggplants are also grown. The black beans have grown so much so in fame that they are called "the black beans of Tamba". Below are a few soul foods from Hyogo Prefecture.
Ikanago is a dish made by boiling baby squid in soy sauce and sugar. It has a sweet and spicy flavor with a hint of ginger.
The young squid are only 2 to 4 cm long and are caught from the end of February to the beginning of March every year, making it a dish that signals the coming of spring for Hyogo locals. Ikanago pairs well with both rice and sake.
Specialty Products of Nara
Nara Prefecture is a very hot and humid area in summer, but can get surprisingly cold in winter. High quality agricultural products included persimmons and strawberries, which Nara is famous for. The prefecture is also famous for somen, which are very thin noodles made of wheat flour.
Kakinoha-zushi is a dish made by wrapping salmon sashimi and vinegared rice in persimmon leaves. The salmon sashimi is sandwiched between two persimmon leaves, helping to transfer the taste of the plant. Vinegared rice is made by mixing rice with vinegar and sugar, resulting in a rice that does not become hard after it cools. The aroma of persimmon leaves adds a hint of flavor to the sushi, making it very delicious.
Specialty Products of Mie
Mie Prefecture boasts the Ise Grand Shrine, where the goddess Amaterasu is enshrined as the ancestral deity of Japan's imperial family. With its long coastline and mountains, there are many different topographies in the prefecture. Ise is known for raising Matsuzaka beef, a premium brand of Japanese beef. Ise is also famous for its seafood, such as lobsters and bonito, and agricultural products, such as green tea and rice.
Ise Udon is a dish of very thick udon noodles that are boiled softly and eaten with a dipping sauce. The udon is several times thicker than regular udon, so it takes a long time to boil. Negi (green onions) are sprinkled on top, but nothing else is added. The soup has a sweet taste. It is also a dish that is commonly eaten at home.
Specialty Products of Shiga
Shiga Prefecture is home to the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. It is a prefecture with a deeply rooted rice-growing culture, where most of the arable land is paddy fields. The rice produced is called Omi rice amongst others. The prefecture also raises a brand of beef called Omi Beef. The birthplace of Japanese tea is also said to be in Shiga Prefecture.
Funa-zushi is a fermented food made from crucian carp, a large fish caught in Lake Biwa. The crucian carp is gutted, stuffed with salt and pickled, then washed off and stuffed with rice and pickled again. Some take as long as two years from the time they are first prepared until they are ready to eat. Since the fish is fermented, it has a distinctive smell. It is customary to eat funazushi during celebrations and gatherings.
Specialty Products of Wakayama
Wakayama Prefecture is a prefecture with more than 100 archaeological sites, where you can feel the history from long ago. There are also many sightseeing spots such as the World Heritage registered Koya Mountain and Kumano Kodo. Wakayama has a thriving fruit farming sector, with mandarin oranges, persimmons, peaches and loquats. Ume plums are particularly famous, and are known as "Kishu Nanko Ume". The tuna and kue fish that come in on the Kuroshio Current, an ocean current from the south, also add to the excellent food culture of Wakayama.
Mehari-zushi is a dish of rice wrapped in pickled takana leaves. Historical records show that mehari-zushi was a portable dish, enabling workers to take food with them in the mountains or fields. The Japanese phrase for the way your eyes open wide when you are surprised is "me wo miharu". Mehari-zushi was reputed to be eye-poppingly delicious and eaten with mouths wide open.
Not Only Tourist Attractions
Blessed with rivers, lakes, oceans and mountains, the Kinki region is a place where all kinds of foods can be found in abundance. There are many dishes that combine these ingredients to produce excellent tastes and remind us of the ingenuity of our ancestors. There are too many dishes to list in a single article, so if you visit the Kinki region, be sure to experience the local cuisine first hand.