Sorry for the lack of new blog articles in recent weeks. Among other things, I went on a business trip to the UK to promote the samurai history and culture of Fukushima Prefecture, so unfortunately I haven’t had time to sit down and blog.
Next week I’m actually going to get the chance to ride on a ‘Samurai Train’ as part of a Samurai Train Tour that starts off in Tokyo, passes through Nikko before going to Ouchi-juku and Aizu-Wakamatsu. I’ll update my blog about this awesome experience at the start of December – I’m very excited!
For the next couple of weeks I’d like to focus a bit on local food from Fukushima Prefecture, as I feel I haven’t written about this much!
Fukushima Prefecture has a wealth of delicious food. The prefecture’s central location in Japan, as well as its size and the isolation of various mountainous areas over the centuries has led to a really rich history of local cuisine. Of course, there are also dishes which have become popular in recent decades as a certain area’s ‘famous foods’, which is a trend you can see all over Japan!
This week’s blog post is about rice-based dishes and side dishes which are famous in the prefecture.
Over the next few posts, I’ll also introduce you to some noodle-based dishes, desserts & confectionary, and even a couple of dishes that are for those who fancy a bit of a culinary challenge!
Sauce Katsudon (Aizu Region)
Katsudon is dish dating back to the early 20th century. It originated in Aizu Region of Fukushima, but is now a favourite all over the prefecture. Katsudon was actually my favourite Japanese food before coming to Fukushima, so it’s no surprise that I fell head-over-heels for Sauce Katsudon.
‘Katsu’ is the Japanese word for deep-fried breaded cutlet, wherease ‘don’ refers to the bowl of rice that the meat is placed on. Katsudon is often made using pork. Shredded cabbage is arranged on top of a bowl of rice.
After the breaded pork is fried, it’s sliced and placed on top of the cabbage. The katsu is then drizzled with a unique brown sauce which tastes a lot like Worcestershire Sauce – which makes the flavour very nostalgic for Brits like myself.
Wappa Meshi (Minamiaizu & Aizu Region)
Wappa Meshi is steamed rice with a variety of toppings – often containing seasonal vegetables local to the mountainous areas of Aizu Region. Wappa Meshi is known for being served in a bowl made from a thin sheets of curved wood – complete with wooden lid. This wooden container is called ‘Mage-Wappa’, which was used as a lunch box by local people in Hinoemata Village in Minamiaizu for over 600 years.
The rice in Wappa Meshi is seasoned and cooked most of the way before having seasonal ingredients added. After the toppings are added, the rice is steamed once more until it’s ready. Although Hinoemata Village – where this dish originated from – is very rural and hard to access, there are a number of restaurants in Aizu-Wakamatsu City where the tradition of eating this dish in these wooden lunch-boxes has been continued to this day.
Enban Gyoza (Fukushima City)
‘Gyoza’ is the Japanese word for small, crescent-shaped dumplings. Gyoza are usually filled with minced pork, cabbage and ginger, and are fried & steamed before being served with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce.
Gyoza dumplings are tessellated in a large frying pan to utilise all available surface area. They are then steamed and fried before being transferred to a plate. Although in other areas of Japan gyoza are separated before being served, in Fukushima, the gyoza are served in the same round arrangement as they are cooked in, earning them the name ‘enban’, which means ‘disk-shaped’.
Enban Gyoza have been a specialty of Fukushima City for half a century, and are perhaps most well-known in the onsen town of Iizaka Onsen which is a short train ride from central Fukushima. Each shop uses different ingredients, makes differently-shaped dumplings, or uses a different seasoning sauce. Since coming to Japan, I’ve eaten a lot of gyoza, but Enban Gyoza are my favourite type. I love their strong garlic flavour and the contrast between the softy, springy texture of the centre of the dumping and that of its crispy edges.
Kozuyu (Aizu Region)
Kozuyu is a soup served with lots of veggies which originates in Aizu Region. Kozuyu is an integral part of meals during ceremonial family gatherings, such as new year celebrations. However, it is also served in restaurants in Aizu keen to share and continue the traditions of Aizu cooking.
Each family has their own special Kozuyu recipe, which is handed down through the generations, but the standard components of this soup are scallop, carrots, mushrooms, konjac jelly noodles and soft wheat croutons known as ‘fu’. The soup is seasoned with salt and soy sauce.
When it comes to Kozuyu, not only are the ingredients important, but so is the presentation of this dish. Since Kozuyu is a dish to be eaten on special occasions, families often serve it in red lacquer bowls produced in Aizu. You can read more about Aizu’s lacquerware here.
Ika Ninjin (Fukushima City)
Ika Ninjin – a simple name which literally translates as ‘squid carrot’(!) – is a dish originating from Fukushima City, but now enjoyed all over the prefecture. This side dish is made from thinly shredded carrot and dried squid, which are marinated in soy sauce, mirin, and sake before being arranged in a shallow dish. This dish is traditionally eaten in winter – probably so that you can make the most of the warming properties of the sake! Ika Ninjin is especially popular in Fukushima as a ‘otsumami’, or snack, for drinking sake, as the flavours pair together very well.
Nishin-no-sanshozuke (Aizu Region)
I really wanted to introduce this dish on my blog because it is probably the dish I was expecting to not like at all, but actually love. Nishin-No-Sanshozuke is one of the representative dishes of Aizu.
Herring is gutted, cleaned and dried before being pickled with soy sauce and the leaves of sansho pepper. Sansho pepper is used during the pickling process, because of its preserving properties, as well as its unique aroma and sour taste which cancel out the bitterness and scent of the herring.
This dish has been a staple of Aizu cuisine for centuries. This is because Aizu is a mountainous region lacking easy access to the sea, which becomes incredibly snowy during winter. The people of Aizu have had to develop different techniques for pickling and preserving foodstuffs over the long winter months when they were not able to leave their villages – and often even their houses – due to heavy snowfall.
The pickling technique used to make Nishin-no-sanshozuke gives the fish an amazing taste. Although there are small bones in the herring, these become extremely soft during the pickling process so they can be eaten with no problem. This dish can be especially enjoyed as a side dish alongside a drink of alcohol.
Iwana Shio Yaki (Prefecture-wide)
The final fish I’ll introduce during this blog is Iwana Shio Yaki. This is a dish which can be found all over the prefecture, and actually also in neighbouring prefectures in Tohoku. ‘Iwana Shio Yaki’, like many other dishes showcased here, has a very matter-of-fact name when translated into English – it translates as ‘Salt-cooked charfish’.
Iwana – a river-fish known in English as ‘char’ – are pierced with a stick, covered in salt and cooked over an open flame. Often these fish are cooked over an irori, pictured above, which is a traditional Japanese sunken hearth.
I’ve written about iwana here, but actually many types of river-fish can be used in this dish. Some people in Tohoku eat these fish whole – including the head and … all the other bits. But most people use chopsticks to separate the tougher bones from the soft white flesh of the fish. During the time it takes for the fish to cook, the salt that was used to cover the fish soaks into the flesh, and gives it a really great taste.
Although I know eating fish with lots of little bones in it can be difficult for some people, it’s a really tasty side-dish and I recommend you try it!
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