When you ask someone if they want to eat Japanese food the first thing that comes to someone's mind is sushi, sake, tempura and rice. Little do people know that in Japan, there are more food options than the four mentioned. We have broken down some famous food areas that will for sure wet your appetite; Hokkaido, Niigata, Okinawa, Osaka and will introduce some of unique food and drink to that region.
Hokkaido is famous for its natural resources such as national parks, hot springs, farms, and beautiful flowers. Surrounded by the sea, seafood in Hokkaido is abundant and fresh - the sea urchins and crabs are especially famous. Besides a huge selection of seafood, dairy products produced by local farms are also a local specialty. The weather in Hokkaido also produces grapes, which are very suitable for wine making.
Some dish to try in Hokkaido while you are there:
Ramen – you can try the Sapporo Ramen – it is the first ramen in Japan that is made from miso soup base.
Genghis Khan Barbecue – lamb barbecue with vegetables, which also goes great with beer.
Seafood – Besides Sushi or sashimi, you can try Ruibe (an Ainu specialty which thinly sliced raw frozen salmon is eaten like sashimi) or Ika Somen (squid is sliced into thin noodles and dip into a sauce, just like eating noodles)
Chocolate – You can try Royce Chocolate, especially the Nama Chocolate made from fresh cream produced in Hokkaido. Shiroikoibito is also a famous brand with white chocolate encapsulated in thin cookies.
Alcohol – Hokkaido produces some fine wines in Japan – you can choose from red, white or rose with a great variety of taste. If you like beer Hokkaido also produces fine beer like this.
Some cities to visit to sample some of Hokkaido's great food:
Hakodate – Make sure you try some Shio-ramen with a slice of fresh squid in it as squid is the symbol of Hakodate as well as kaisen-don (a bowl of rice topped with fresh seafood such as; Crab, salmon roe, and sea urchin.
Furano – come and enjoy some great wine and dairy products (cheese and ice cream).
Otaru – is known for it's large variety of fresh, high quality seafood. Make sure you visit Sushiya Street to sample some of Otaru's mouth-watering sushi.
Kushiro – home to Japan's largest fishing fleet so make sure you go one of the many seafood restaurants and sushi bars.
Niigata, located in the center of the Japanese mainland and along the coast of the Japan Sea, is famous for its hot springs and skiing activities. It is believed that seafood obtained from the Japan Sea is the most delicious, and Niigata clearly enjoys the geographic privilege which seafood is a local specialty. Niigata also produces fine rice, which is perfect for sake making.
Seafood – Choose from sushi, sashimi, and even dried seafood – dried seafood tastes the best with hot white rice.
Alcohol – Rice and water in Niigata produce some of the best sakes in Japan. The sake of Niigata is characterized by the term Tanrei Karakuchi, which means that it is crisp, clear, and it does not leave you bored. Try the Ginjoshu if you are looking for the top sake in Japan. Sake can also be served warm or chilled, but it is also a good idea to ask for the professional's opinion. Some breweries also offer factory tours, you can see the list here and advance reservation is usually required.
Soba – Niigata also has a famous type of buckwheat noodle (soba) named hegisoba made with also seaweed. It goes well with the sauce, spring onion, and even wasabi.
When people go to Osaka they usually don't go there for sightseeing but mostly for the food! Many tourists Japanese and foreign alike, can't express enough how good the food is in the Kansai area. If visiting Osaka, you should visit Dotonbori, where you can find many shops selling some of these delicious foods.
Here is a list of some of the foods you must try when you go to Osaka;
Takoyaki – Personally one of my favorite foods in Japan. Takoyaki originated from Osaka so some of the best Takoyaki is found in Osaka. Takoyaki is a mixture of wheat-flour, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion mixed together to form a batter with a chunk of octopus that is added to the middle. After being cooked, takoyaki is usually topped with okonomiyaki sauce, green seaweed (aonori), mayonnaise, and katsuobushi (fish shavings).
Okonomiyaki – There is two kinds of Okonomiyaki in Japan. One being Hiroshima Okonomiyaki and the other is Kansai style Okonomiyaki. So what is Okonomiyaki? It is a Japanese-style pancake cooked on a hot plate. Made with pieces of meat (usually pork), seafood and chopped cabbage, after grilling, a brown sauce (Okonomiyaki sauce) is spread on top of the pancake with dried bonito shavings and green seaweed is sprinkled on top of the sauce. Some people also add mayonnaise to the toppings. Please feel free to experiment with other ingredients to put in your Okonomiyaki because there is no wrong way to have it. Okonomiyaki is eaten all over Japan, but is particularly popular and delicious in the Osaka area.
Kushikatsu – is a deep-friend kabob of vegetables and pork. Some places in Osaka will let you cook your kushikatsu, making it half the fun.
Okinawa is known for the longevity of its people through the unique Okinawan diet. Okinawans believe that "good food" is medicine for your body.
Some of Okinawa's must try foods and drinks are;
Goya – Japanese (Bitter melon). Just as the name says, "bitter" melon; this vegetable can be found in many Okinawan dishes and has a bitter taste.
Goya Chanpuru – is a dish made by stir-frying goya and tofu with a bit of salt and seasoning for flavor.
Taco Rice – Invented in 1960's. It consists of taco-flavoured ground beef served on a bed of rice and lettuce, frequently also served with tomato,cheese and topped off with salsa.
Okinawan Soba – Okinawa soba really isn't the standard Japanese soba. Japanse soba is made using buckwheat where as Okinawa soba uses just wheat. The noodles are just like udon noodles with the soup similar to ramen. Standard toppings are kamaboko (fish cake), sliced scallion and a thick slice of stewed pork belly or boneless pork ribs (soki), and usually garnished with beni shoga (pickled ginger).
As for Okinawan sake, there are two drinks that come to mind and are a must try when visiting Okinawa.
Awamori – is a alcholoic beverage that is unique to Okinawa. It is made from rice, and is not a direct product of brewing (like sake) but of distillation (like shochu). Awamori typically is 60 proof alchohol but 120 proof can be found so for those wanting to try some of Okinawa's island sake "shimasake" please make sure to check before drinking.
Orion beer – In Japan, Orion beer is not such a major beer company but in Okinawa it has over 50% of the market share. The taste is a very light taste that is very similar to American beer.