Hi everyone! This is the second post in this series about local culinary specialties from Fukushima Prefecture. Last week I wrote about rice-based dishes & side-dishes from Fukushima. This week, I’ll be writing about noodle dishes.
Negi-soba (Aizu Region)
Although Fukushima Prefecture has many areas well-suited for rice-production, the rugged mountainous region of Aizu, which experiences heavy snowfall in winter, has a problematic climate for rice production. Due to this, the people of Aizu turned their attention to growing soba (buckwheat).
Even today, views of soba fields in flower remains a quintessential part of summer in Aizu, and it still is common for restaurants in Aizu region to serve a variety of soba noodle dishes, many made using locally-sourced soba.
Negi-soba (‘leek soba’), is one of Fukushima Prefecture’s most famous noodle dishes. Negi-soba is based off a separate noodle dish called Takato-soba. It is thought that one day, when Masayuki Hoshina – a prince from the Aizu region – returned home after travelling to Nagano Prefecture, he brought with him a retainer from Nagano’s Takato clan, who introduced the people of Aizu to eating soba noodles with grated daikon radish. The practice of eating soba with grated daikon became popular, and is known as ‘Takato-soba’.
Negi-soba came about when the owner of a traditional restaurant in Ouchi-juku called Misawaya once again came up with a new way of enjoy soba noodles. They stumbled upon the idea of eating Takato-soba using a green leek instead of chopsticks, in order to combine the flavour of the leek with the dish, while saving on some washing up(!). This dish became very popular in Ouchi-juku, and now you can eat it at many restaurants in the small town. It’s a unique experience which is definitely worth trying!
Kitakata Ramen (Kitakata City)
Alongside Hokkaido’s Sapporo Ramen and Fukuoka’s Hakata Ramen, Kitakata Ramen is recognised as one of the top three ramen in Japan. Ramen is a Japanese dish, which combines Chinese-style wheat noodles in a broth (usually meat-based), topped with meat and vegetables.
Kitakata Ramen’s broth has a soy-sauce base, seeing as soy-sauce was readily available from the warehouses in Kitakata City where sake, soy-sauce and other ingreidents central to Japanese cuisine have been produced for decades. The broth is also made using boiled-down dried sardines, vegetables and tonkotsu (pig bones).
The ramen is toped with chashu (sliced barbequed pork), spring onions, bamboo shoots and a slice of Japanese fish cake (the white slice witha pink-swirl in the center). The noodles used in Kitakata Ramen are unusually because they are rather wide, and have a distinctive kinked shape. The noodles are also softer than ramen noodles from other areas of Japan, due to the relatively high water content of the flour used to make them.
Kitakata Ramen came about in 1925 after a 19-year-old man moved to Kitakata City from China in the hopes of searching for a long-lost relative. He taught the local people how to make ramen, and it became such a hit, that now there are over 130 shops selling Kitakata Ramen in just one city.
Many of these restaurants allow customers to have ‘asara’, or ‘morning ramen’, which is a local tradition of eating ramen for breakfast! There are tourist maps showing the various restaurants dotted around the city, so make sure to visit a couple when you visit!
Shirakawa Ramen (Shirakawa City)
Shirakawa Ramen is not as well known around the country as Kitakata Ramen, but is still delicious and worth trying when you visit Shirakawa. Like Kitakata Ramen, ramen from Shirakawa is served in a rich, uniquely seasoned soy-sauce based broth. The noodles have regular kinks in them and are nicely chewy.
Shirakawa Ramen was first served back in the Taisho era (1912-1926), when the first ramen restaurant in Shirakawa City served hand-kneaded noodles in soy sauce-based soup. The city now has over 100 restaurants serving Shirakawa Ramen, and it is a local favourite with a legacy that local people are keen to carry forward to future generations.
Yamajio Ramen (Kitashiobara Village)
Yamajio Ramen (‘Mountain-Salt Ramen’) is made using mountain salt which has been boiled down and concentrated by the hot springs of Kitashiobara. To obtain this ‘mountain salt’, hot spring water is boiled down for more than 24 hours over firewood, making it a very labour-intensive salt to produce. Yamajio is actually considered one of the most expensive salts in Japan, when produced using traditional techniques. Only 1 kilogram of salt can be produced from 100 litres of hot spring water.
Not only is Yamajio admired in the present day for the work that goes into producing it, Yamajio has historically been considered a very high-value item, especially since Aizu does not have any access to the ocean. In fact, it’s said that mountain salt has even been given as a gift to the emperor of Japan!
Kitashiobara Village is a small town which is located bordering a national park. There is a lot of competition within the village to make the best Yamajio Ramen, so definitely try ramen from a couple of these shops!
Kappa Men (Sukagawa City)
Sukagawa City is famous for its delicious cucumbers, so it’s only natural that the city’s most well-known dish incorporates them in its recipe! ‘Kappa men’ is a noodle dish, often eaten in summer, full of fresh veggies include cucumber and goya (‘bitter melon’). This dish is super green – even the noodles used in this dish are actually made from cucumber! The dish is served with a unique dashi soup and specially-made miso.
‘Kappa men’ takes it name from Kappa – thought to be a type of river sprite yokai (supernatural spirit) resembling a turtle that stands on its hind legs and collects water in its concave head. Kappa love eggplant, melons, and especially cucumber. This isn’t the only cucumber-based dish to have ‘kappa’ featured in its name – sushi rolls including sushi are often called ‘kappa sushi’.
Thanks for reading!
Join me next time for a post about more local food from Fukushima!
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