Sitting on the southern point of the Izu peninsula about four hours from Tokyo is the humble port town of Shimoda. As well as being a scenic retreat from the manic energy of city life, it’s also where you’ll find some of the best seafood in the whole entire world. The town is home to a number of fish markets, while local restaurants specialize in squid, baked fish and kinmedai – a crispy golden eye snapper that’s quickly gaining a lot of popularity internationally.
If you head up to the more northern area of Japan you’ll get to Hokkaido prefecture. The capital is the chilly city of Sapporo, home to some of the most exciting winter festivals and the best dairy products in Japan. Though when compared to its European contemporaries Japan may not be know for its cheeses, Hokkaido does in fact actually produce delicious world-class cheese. One food you cannot miss is the Hokkadio cheese tart – consider it the cheesecake’s smaller flavour packed cousin. It’s a warm bed of gooey sweet cheese lava contained by a crispy, buttery pastry and potentially the most delicious sweet you haven’t yet tried.
In Japan soba noodles (buckwheat) are not unique, however the city of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture does soba a little differently. Known as ‘wanko soba’, this dish is essentially an eating competition disguised as a meal. In the local dialect ‘wanko’ means ‘bowls’, and here in Morioka soba is served in stacks of tiny little bowls. If you go to one of these special soba restaurants you’re designated a dedicated server who patiently waits for you to finish your tiny bowl before restocking you with another mouthful of fresh warm noodles. Once you’re filled to the brim simply cover your bowl (the sign of ‘I’m done’) and the meal is finished.
Sometimes considered Tokyo’s cool grittier cousin, Osaka has a lot going for it, but it’s their takoyaki that really brings the masses. Often refered to in English as ‘fried octopus balls’, takoyaki is the perfect on-the-go, after drinking, during drinking and everything in-between snack. It’s like a traditional form of fast food. Consisting of fried crispy batter containing tiny chewy pieces of octopus formed into golfball-shaped bites and covered in sauce and mayonnaise, they’re way more appealing than they sound.
Okinawa is a fascinating island. It’s home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world and some of the longest living locals too, so they must be doing something right. The one food you really have try when you’re in the area is umibudo, also known as sea grapes. Considered a common snack, this strange type of seaweed consists of tiny little salty beads that bust and release a slightly salty taste of the sea.
Kobe is probably the most famous beef in the world, and is a prized Japanese delicacy and probably the most widely-known regional speciality food in Japan. One of the many breeds of Wagyu, aka Japanese cattle, Kobe beef is always tender, and flavourful and marbled with fat. The most common way to enjoy Kobe beef is in shabu shabu (a soup filled with boiled meat), sukiyaki (Japanese hot pot) or teppanyaki, where the chef grills the meat in front of his guests.
Located only 40 minutes from Tokyo, Yokohama is the capital city’s often overlooked cousin, but if you’re visitng Tokyo don’t miss an opportunity to pop by. Yokohama is arguably home to the most food museums in the country, one of which includes the ramen museum. It makes sense because it’s one of the most underrated ramen centres of the world. Legend has it that the first Japanese ramen shop actually opened here in Yokohama. Since its beginning the city’s ramen scene has developed a lot, so much so there’s not just a museum but also an dedicated ramen festival that happens every year.
When in Nikko the one food you have to try is yuba. Basically a version of tofu, or more graphically, a food made from the surface skin that forms on top of soy milk when it gets hot, it sounds disgusting but tastes delicious. Yuba’s greatest appeal is its versatility – like tofu, it reflects the flavours in which its cooked but with a much more interesting, chewy texture. The best way to eat it is as the local suggest in a bowl of hot noodles.
Fugu is a bit of an urban legend on the culinary scene, but it does very much exist, and the best place to find it is in Fukuoka. This delicious (though deadly if you don’t cook it right) blowfish is easily accessible for a decent price here in the capital of Kyushu Island. Whether you want it in a hot pot, sashimi style, or fried, you can get it in Fukuoka.