The Tohoku region is located in the northern part of Japan. It is a region rich in nature and culture and there are many delicious foods produced here that take advantage of the climate and features of the land. We explore several dishes that have been enjoyed by generations of Japanese. Interested in traveling to Tohoku? We will take a quick look at popular destinations and attractions in the region as well.
Natural Surroundings and Industry of Tohoku
The prefectures of Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata and Fukushima are collectively called the Tohoku region.
It is a region known for its nature, full of mountains, rivers, and hot springs with borders to the sea. Japan has four distinct seasons, and no matter which season you visit, you can enjoy the natural beauty that Tohoku has to offer. In summer, enjoy the cool breeze by the side of a mountain stream; in winter, take in the mountain views while skiing in the glistening snow.
Nature is not the only thing that attracts people to Tohoku. The Aomori Nebuta Festival, Sendai Tanabata Festival, Hanagasa Festival, and many other traditional events are also held in Tohoku. At the time of these events, there is always an electric enthusiasm coursing through the town.
The fruits, vegetables, meats, and other foods grown and raised in this rich natural environment are famous for their high quality. And as Tohoku borders the sea, there is also an abundance of seafood. With this type of environment, it is no surprise that there are many foods that the locals are proud of.
Specialty Products of Aomori
Aomori Prefecture is surrounded by the Sea of Japan, the Pacific Ocean, the Tsugaru Strait and Mutsu Bay. It is well known for its seafood and mountain produce. Even within Aomori Prefecture, each region has its own characteristics due to weather and land conditions.
Tsugaru Region: Sushiko
The Tsugaru region has been cultivating grains since ancient times and as a result, they are known for their rice and glutinous rice dishes. Sushiko is a fermented dish made by mixing steamed glutinous rice with red shiso, cucumber, and pickled cabbage. The use of red perilla gives the dish a bright reddish purple color. It was originally made as a preserved food, and the most common way to eat sushiko is with a steamy bowl of rice.
Southern Region: Senbei Jiru Soup
In the southern part of Japan, many dishes are made with root vegetables, flour and cereals. Senbei-jiru is a soup in which Nambu senbei is split and boiled. Nanbu senbei is made of flour and salt, and does not fall apart when cooked. The soup is full of vegetables and meats or fish, so it is highly nutritious and full of flavor.
Shimokita area: Keiran
In the Shimokita region, there are many potato dishes, glutinous rice cake dishes and seafood dishes. Kairan is a dish of dumplings, or "Dango" in Japanese, in a soup flavored with soy sauce. Dango is a Japanese sweet made of red bean paste wrapped in glutinous rice.
Coastal regions: Ichigo-ni
In coastal areas such as Tsugaru Straits, the Sea of Japan, and the Pacific Ocean, many marine products are caught. Ichigo-ni is a soup of sea urchin and abalone with a simple salt seasoning. The name "Ichigo-ni" caught on because the reddish urchin floating in the cloudy white soup looked like a wild strawberry; "ichigo" meaning strawberry in Japanese.
Specialty Products of Akita
Akita Prefecture faces the Sea of Japan, with a beautiful panoramic view of the water from Irimozaki on the Oga Peninsula. The beauty of the setting sun on the horizon is so breathtaking that many find the experience quite emotional. Akita is also home to Shirakami Sanchi, a mountain range that straddles Aomori Prefecture, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Akita, with its rich natural environment, is particularly famous for its rice and sake. It is one of the top producers of both in Japan.
One of the most popular local dishes in Akita is kiritanpo; a dish of mashed rice wrapped around a cedar stick and grilled to perfection. Baking it in a sunken hearth gives it a savory aroma adding to its nuanced flavor. A sunken hearth is a square piece of floor in a room where ashes are placed and charcoal or wood is burned. When the meat is cooked, it is cut into pieces and stewed with a generous amount of vegetables. When stewing, the broth comes from Hinai chicken, Akita's famous local chicken. The kiritanpo that has soaked up the broth has a chewy texture and a soothing taste.
Hatahata--the grouper--is a famous fish in Akita. Hatahata Sushi is a dish made by mixing salted hatahata, rice, vegetables, kelp, and koji. Koji is a fermentation process that occurs when grains are covered with koji mold and allowed to grow. Each family has their own unique flavor of hatahata sushi, handed down from their ancestors. Hatahata is also the raw material for fish sauce called "Shottsuru," which is made by salting and fermenting the grouper.
Specialty Products of Iwate
Iwate Prefecture is surrounded by mountains, which is the cause for many different microclimates across the prefecture. You will find cooler summers in coastal areas and hotter summers in inland areas. Jodogahama is a scenic spot with beautiful pine trees lining a cove made of volcanic rocks and stones. In Iwate Prefecture, field crops such as cereals as well as livestock farming flourish, but at the same time, seaweed farming is also a thriving industry.
Hittsumi is a dish made by kneading wheat flour with water and stewing it with vegetables, seafood and chicken. The ingredients vary from region to region, even within Iwate Prefecture and may include crab or river fish. Soy sauce is added to the natural broth that results from the ingredients. A quick tip if you plan on making this dish: When placing the dough into the pot for cooking, tear the dough into small pieces by hand. The name "wanko soba" is said to have come from the word "hittsumu," meaning to tear off the dough by hand.
Wanko soba is a buckwheat noodle dish served in a bowl that can be enjoyed in a single mouthful. When you finish the mouthful, the serving staff immediately refills your bowl in preparation for the next bite. The way to eat wanko soba is to follow the waiter's call, "Hai, jan jan". If you are too full to eat, you have to close the lid of the bowl before the waiter puts in the next mouthful. Unless you do, the waiter will keep offering you a refill. This dish has been enjoyed since ancient times during rice planting season or at banquets when many people would gather.
Specialty Products of Miyagi
Miyagi Prefecture is blessed with breathtaking scenic views, including Naruko Gorge and Matsushima, which is designated as one of the "Three Views of Japan". There are also many hot springs, and the ruins of Sendai Castle, built by the warlord Date Masamune. In addition to abundant rice farming, there are 142 fishing ports, where skipjack, tuna and sea squirt are specialties. Cow tongue, "Gyutan" is a choice cut of meat enjoyed by many. The thickness of the tongue and the way it is grilled varies from restaurant to restaurant. In addition to being grilled, it is also eaten as a stew or sushi. Here are some other famous dishes.
Okuzukake is a soup made of tofu and vegetables, like carrots and shiitake mushrooms, and thickened with kuzu powder. "Kuzu-koh" is a powder made from a plant called kuzu, a member of the legume family. The thickened soup is completed by adding warm shiraishi noodles. Shiraishi is a thick rice noodle similar to udon, which is easy to digest. Using seasonal vegetables and simmering them well makes this dish easy to eat for both children and the elderly.
Zunda Mochi is made by mashing boiled edamame and kneading it with sugar. Peeling off the thin skin of the edamame gives it a smooth texture. It is even more delicious when it is mixed with freshly made soft mochi. It is especially popular in the southern part of Miyagi Prefecture. In Miyagi, it is customary to eat mochi whenever there are celebrations such as New Year's, weddings and funerals.
Specialty Products of Yamagata
Yamagata Prefecture has many tourist attractions, including ski resorts and hot springs. It is also famous for the Mogami River and Yamadera Temple where Matsuo Basho, one of Japan's most famous haiku poets, composed his poems. There are also many other shrines and temples where you can feel an air of sacredness. The prefecture is also known as the "Kingdom of Fruit Trees" for its large harvest of fruits. Among the many fruits, cherries, oranges, and La France are the most famous products. There are also many famous dishes, some of which are introduced below.
Imoni is a dish made by stewing taro, beef, green onions, konnyaku, and other ingredients. Since taro is harvested in autumn, taro-ni is a typical autumn dish. Depending on the region, there are differences such as soy sauce seasoning, miso seasoning and pork instead of beef. People in Yamagata Prefecture have a custom of surrounding themselves with family and friends with Imoni on the riverbank, a practice that is known to be very old, originating in the 1600s. It is a typical dish that is familiar to all from childhood, as it is included in school lunch menus as well as in hotels and supermarkets.
Dashi is different from the dashi often found in Japanese recipes, made from kombu or bonito flakes. It is a dish of finely chopped vegetables such as cucumber, eggplant, shiso, myoga and okra, and then seasoned with soy sauce. In areas surrounded by mountains, summers are very hot and people lose their appetite. Therefore, this dish is made with vegetables that have a high water content to make it refreshing to eat. It can be served over rice or tofu, and is an indispensable summer dish.
Specialty Products of Fukushima
Fukushima Prefecture has a varied topography from east to west. Because of the large difference in elevation between the sea and mountains and the basin, there is a large difference in temperature within the prefecture. Goshikinuma, where the colors change depending on the angle from which you look at it, and Ouchi-juku, where you can enjoy the Edo-period Japanese townscape, are also famous sightseeing spots. In terms of food, rice, fruits, and marine products are famous products. In particular, a wide variety of fruits such as peaches, pears, strawberries, and figs are grown in the area. Of course, there are also local dishes to be proud of.
Kozuyu is a soup filled with vegetables, including carrots and taro and ingredients such as fu. "Mame fu" is made from gluten, which is extracted by kneading wheat flour with water, and is molded into a round shape. The umami-rich broth is made from scallops and has a light flavor, making it easy to eat. It is often prepared as a dish for entertaining at events where people gather.
Shingoro is a dish of cooked rice that has been slightly mashed and rolled into a ball, skewered, coated with Jyunen Miso, and grilled. Jyunen Miso is a mixture of miso, egoma, and sugar. The name "Jyunen Miso" comes from the word "Jyunen," which means sesame. The name "Shingoro" comes from the name of the person who created this dish. Grilling it over charcoal gives it a charcoal aroma and flavor.
Delicious from the Sea to the Mountains
In the Tohoku region, there are differences in climatic conditions even within the same prefecture, and many of the foods of Tohoku take advantage of these differences. The dishes highlight the natural tastes of the many vegetables, meats and fish and are sure to leave you satisfied. In addition to food, Tohoku is also home to many festivals and historical monuments. When you visit Tohoku, be sure to enjoy both the beautiful sights as well as the foods.