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Foodie Fukushima: 12 foods you must try in Fukushima

Foodie Fukushima: 12 foods you must try in Fukushima

I make it a rule that, for wherever I travel to, the destination must have good food. That’s one of the main reasons I travel to Japan time and time again, more so for Tohoku Region (東北地方 Tōhoku-chihō), a wonderland for hot springs, pristine natural sceneries, and of course, delicious foods. If I were to highlight any prefecture in the region that has great food, my pick would be Fukushima.

 

 

Fukushima’s food map: Aizu (green area); Nakadōri (orange area); and Hamadōri (blue area). The dishes are numbered to the location of their origins. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会/JNTO)

 

My foodie article trail continues: Akita was my first, Yamagata was my second, and now Fukushima’s my third. In this article, we will learn a bit about the different gastronomical regions of the prefecture and explore some of the prefecture’s iconic dishes. By looking at the prefecture’s scrumptious delicacies, we will have a clue as to why the name can be translated as “blessed island”!

 

Aizu: Fukushima’s cuisine mecca

Aizu (会津) is the westernmost region of Fukushima and has the bulk of gastronomical highlights in the prefecture. It is also known its historical significance: the region boasts of its rich samurai heritage, where many powerful clans have come and oversaw different parts of the region. Thus, it is home to imposing landmarks such as the recently restored Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城 Tsuruga-jō), idyllic post-town О̄uchijuku (大内宿), and the picture-perfect No. 1 Tadami River Bridge (第一只見川橋梁 Daiichi Tadami-gawa Kyōryō). We kickstart our journey here, where its rich history is reflected in its cuisine.

 

① Kozuyu (こづゆ)


Kozuyu. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

When it comes to soul food, every rural region in Japan has their own unique answer. In Akita, there’s kiritanpo (きりたんぽ). Yamagata has imoni (芋煮). Fukushima (Aizu)? It’s kozuyu, a wholesome dish that makes eaters feel like they’re back in their hometowns in the countryside. It’s a hearty soup whose ingredients vary according to household, but the key ingredient for kozuyu is dried scallops, which forms the base of the broth. Standard ingredients such as carrots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms (usually wood ear or shiitake), and konjac are diced and added to the soup, and seasoned with mirin and soya sauce to create a deep and mild flavour that combines the best from the sea and mountains.

 

Kozuyu was traditionally served during wedding ceremonies and New Year celebrations. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

As Aizu is located deep in inland Fukushima, it’s far from the sea and thus lacks access to fresh seafood. Therefore, kozuyu use dried ingredients instead with dried scallops as the sole seafood component. Traditionally it is served in red Aizu lacquered bowls—which are prized crafts from the region―during wedding ceremonies, New Year celebrations and birthdays. These days, every household has their own variation of this dish and it can be enjoyed throughout the year.

For visitors interested in knowing Fukushima’s soul food, this is one they must include in their eating lists.

 

② Aizu Sauce Katsu-don (ソースかつ丼)

Aizu sauce katsu-don. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Katsu-don is typically a rice bowl topped with deep-fried pork cutlets, and often topped with an egg and soya or sweet sauce. It’s one of the most ubiquitous dishes in Japan, with many specialty standalone eateries and chain restaurants serving it since its inception during the Taisho Period (大正時代 Taishō-jidai). However, perhaps unbeknownst to many people, Aizu has its own variation of the beloved dish called Aizu sauce katsu-don (会津ソースかつ丼).

 

Aizu sauce katsu-don's sauce covers the entire pork cutlets. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

As the adage goes, “the secret is in the sauce”. Indeed, what distinguishes Aizu sauce katsu-don from other regular ones is the sauce and how the dish is prepared in general. The pork cutlets are completely smothered in the sauce, so diners can fully experience the sweet-and-savoury taste of the sauce permeating the fatty meat.

 

Every eatery serving Aizu sauce katsu-don has their own different taste and style. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

In fact, there are even small variations of the dish in Aizu. Some restaurants serve an egg on top of the cutlet, while others such as Yanaizu sauce katsu-don places the egg underneath it. Plus, visitors are bound to find differences in the dish depending on where they go, be it in the thickness of the cutlets or the taste of the sauce, but that’s the fun part. Isn’t it fun not just to find this dish in Aizu, but to explore the best one in the region? One thing’s for sure: this is one dish that visitors will have to try, at least once.

 

③ Nishin-no-Sanshozuke (にしんの山椒漬け)

Nishin-no-Sanshozuke. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

It’s no secret that Japanese people love their fish. Ask the average person what fish they eat all the time, and they would think something like salmon, tuna, or sardines. But perhaps something closer to the Japanese heart is the Pacific herring (鰊 nishin), which is more integral in their staple than most people would think. In Fukushima, it is enjoyed as nishin-no-sanshozuke, and this one’s not exactly for everyone.

 

Nishin-no-sanshozuke is prepared by drying herring and pickling them with Japanese peppers. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Nishin-no-sanshozuke is pickled herring where the fish is first dried, then layered with Japanese peppers (山椒 sanshō), and finally pickled with a concoction made with soya sauce, sake, sugar, and vinegar. Herring is in season in early spring so making them takes place around this period. The Japanese peppers in the pickling process help to mellow the strong dried herring taste, resulting in a unique flavour that perfectly complements sake (Fukushima is also famous for sake). As such, you can find this at most Japanese bars (居酒屋 izakaya). When you’re have a drinking session, spice up your experience by checking out nishin-no-sanshozuke.

 

④ Miso-dengaku (味噌田楽)

Miso-dengaku. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

If you’re in the mood for something addictive in the region of Aizu, then check out miso-dengaku, which are grilled tofu skewers covered in a special miso sauce mixed with Japanese peppers. Other ingredients such as mochi, taro, eggplant, konjac and even herring can also be used instead, and they are grilled around a charcoal hearth, in the same style as kiritanpo.

 

Miso-dengaku have roots dating back to samurai era when this delicacy was part of field cooking. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Miso-dengaku’s roots are traced back to the days of the samurai in Edo Period when the warriors prepared this as part of their field cooking. Nowadays, they can be found easily at restaurants in the Aizu region and has become a favourite for the locals. This is one dish you wouldn’t want to miss.

 

⑤ Negi soba (ネギそば)

Negi soba. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Soba is one of the fundamental noodle dishes in Japanese cuisine, and everywhere in the country, there’s bound to be a variation of it. Yamagata has ita soba (板そば). In Nagano, it’s Shinshu soba (信州そば). And let’s not forget wanko soba (わんこそば) in Iwate. Fukushima is no exception, but its own version of soba is perhaps the most unusual, even for Japanese people.

 

Negi soba is eaten by using leek as your chopsticks. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Soba is famous in Aizu because of the region’s nutrient-rich soil, an essential component in making high-quality buckwheat flour used for making the noodles. Negi soba is famous in Aizu region, but perhaps not for conventional reasons. Eaters don’t use chopsticks to eat the soba, as they naturally would; instead they use the leek given as chopsticks. Using the leek itself is not just for novelty purposes, however; it supposedly gives the soba a deeper taste upon eating, making the dish more pleasurable (and memorable).

 

Negi soba has an interesting history: it is also known as Takato soba (高遠そば) because its origins can be traced to Takato town (高Takatō-machi) in the city of Ina (伊那市 Ina-shi), Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken). Historically, it was imported to Aizu by Hoshina Masayuki (保科正之), a daimyo when he transferred to Aizu in early Edo Period. It became popular especially in Ouchijuku, and adapted to the local palate. In 1998, it was “re-imported” back to Takato where it is officially recognised as Takato soba.

 

Though negi soba and Takato soba share the same roots, they don’t look and taste anything like each other. Where negi soba includes eating with grated daikon radish and dried bonito flakes (and the leek too), Takato soba uses miso in the broth and the daikon radish used is spicy. Sometimes it’s fun to try something different once in a while. How about using a leek to eat soba for a change?

 

⑥ Kitakata ramen (喜多方ラーメン)

Kitakata ramen. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

This is a shout-out to all ramen lovers out there: Fukushima is home to one of the iconic ramen types in Japan. In the northwesternmost part of the prefecture lies Kitakata, a quiet city where the Kitakata ramen is born. Kitakata’s shoyu ramen is one of the three most popular ramen types in Japan, along with Sapporo’s miso ramen up in Hokkaido and Hakata’s tonkotsu ramen down in Kyushu. As such, the ramen type can be found everywhere in the country, but when it comes to exploring its roots, heading to its birth city is a must.

 

Kitakata ramen's wavy noodles are thicker than the average ramen noodles. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Kitakata specialises in shoyu ramen that includes green onions, fish cake, roasted pork, and bamboo shoots, and uses wavy noodles that are thicker than your average ramen noodles. It’s one of the most prevalent styles of ramen found in Japan, so much that if you come across a ramen with these characteristics, chances are it’s Kitakata-style.

 

Kitakata has the greatest number of ramen stores per capita. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

I mentioned before in my Yamagata food guide article how that prefecture has the greatest number of ramen stores per capita. Kitakata however, has the honour of being the city with the greatest number of ramen stores per capita. It’s a testament to how much the locals love their ramen, and visitors (especially ramen lovers) must make room to have this ubiquitous dish right at its city of origin.

 

⑦ Kitakata ramen burger (喜多方ラーメンバーガー)

Kitakata ramen burger. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Kitakata ramen, but in burger form. Wrap that around your head for a minute. If ramen is a tad traditional for your liking, how about having it in the style of a burger? Kitakata is also home to the quirky ramen burger, where the buns are made from ramen noodles that uses Kitakata’s “Yukichikara” flour as its main ingredient. Sandwiched between the ramen buns are roasted pork, fish cake, bamboo shoots, and green onions, and topped with shoyu-flavoured sauce. Essentially, it’s all the ingredients you find in Kitakata ramen.

 

Kitakata ramen burger incorporates all the ingredients of the traditional ramen. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

The idea of Kitakata ramen burger was first conceived by a roadside station in Aizu named Michi-no-Eki Kitakata (道の駅喜多方), and to this day this can only be enjoyed at that particular station. When you’re on the road to Aizu, make sure to pinpoint the location of this station if you want to sink your teeth into one of the region’s more eccentric dishes.

 

Nakadōri: Heart of food trail

Our foodie tour continues to Nakadōri (中通り), the midlands of Fukushima. This region is home to some of the prefecture’s major cities such as Kōriyama (郡山市) and the capital Fukushima (福島市), two cities where the Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線) passes through, thus serving as the main gateway to other cities in Japan. Nakadōri is not short of offering its own delicacies, as you will see below.

 

⑧ Enban gyо̄za (円盤餃子)

Enban gyoza. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Gyozas are a staple in Japanese cuisine, and they are prepared in many ways: boiled, steamed, pan-fried. In Fukushima, gyozas are pan-fried but with a twist. Enban gyо̄za (円盤餃子) are arranged in a circle upon frying on a round hotplate, and the batter fuses to the bottom until all the gyо̄zas form a disk, hence the name (“enban gyо̄za” translates as disk gyо̄za).

 

Enban gyoza are arranged in a disk and pan-fried in a round hotplate. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Enban gyо̄za’s filling include lots of vegetables and pork (Egoma pork, a Fukushima specialty, are often used), and their light and crispy texture makes it the perfect side dish to main courses or on its own alongside beer or sake. Once you have a bite of it, you can’t stop; it’s a simple dish that is highly addictive. You’ve been warned!

 

⑨ Kōriyama green curry (郡山グリーンカレー)

Kōriyama green curry. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

If you ask the average Japanese what is probably the most prevalent dish in comtemporary Japanese cuisine, you might be surprised to hear that it's curry. It can be found almost everywhere in the country, where it has been adapted to the local palate and carved its own unique reputation to become Japanese curry. The city of Kōriyama in Nakadōri is home to another kind of curry, one that has its own unique take.

 

Kōriyama green curry uses Fukushima's fresh vegetables, with spinach as the main ingredient. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Upon first glance, the average person would mistake Kōriyama green curry with Thailand's own famous version. However, there are some big differences: whereas Thai's green curry uses a lot of spices such as chili peppers, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and most importantly, coconut milk, Kōriyama's version predominantly uses the prefecture's local seasonal vegetables, with spinach as its main ingredient that gives it that greenish hue. As a result, the latter is a lot milder in taste, suited for the Japanese palate.

 

Kōriyama green curry is also associated with a local homegrown pop rock band. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

More interestingly, the curry is also associated with GReeeeN, a Japanese pop rock band who also hails from Kōriyama. Not only is the dish called "green curry" because of its colour, it is also because it's named after the band itself, who have been elected as 'frontier ambassadors' (フロンティア大使) for the city. You can find this dish easily in the city, including at JR Kōriyama Station itself. 

 

⑩ Shirakawa ramen (白河ラーメン)

Shirakawa ramen. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Kitakata ramen not enough for you? Nakadōri has its own variation in the southern city of Shirakawa (白河市) called Shirakawa ramen, and it bears some resemblance to its counterpart from Kitakata, for it has a shoyu base with curly noodles, and is topped with roasted pork, bamboo shoots.

 

Shirakawa ramen has a shoyu base with curly noodles, topped with roasted pork, bamboo shoots. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Though it looks like Kitakata ramen, the broth has a stronger soya sauce aftertaste. The noodles are traditionally pounded with a wooden stick, cut using a knife, and then curled and kneaded by hand, resulting in a texture that’s fat and chewy. This is your quintessential classic shoyu ramen done perfectly right, and ramen lovers will vouch for its simplicity and orthodox taste.

 

⑪ Shirakawa daruma burger (白河達磨バーガー)

Shirakawa daruma burger. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

If Shirakawa ramen is not enough for you, then try Shirakawa daruma burger, the city’s own “kawaii” take on the classic comfort food. Daruma is a traditional Japanese doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen tradition of Buddhism. Though it is considered a toy in modern times, traditionally it is a good-luck charm that symbolises perseverance. Shirakawa is a city known for its traditional handicrafts, so Shirakawa daruma burger incorporates this into their dish that’s almost too adorable to eat.

 

Shirakawa daruma burger are carefully chosen, resulting in a common fast food that’s healthy and guilt-free. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Though burgers are often thought as an unhealthy fast food, Shirakawa daruma burgers use ingredients that are carefully chosen, embodying the idea of slow food (スローフード) concept. The heart-shaped are made with 100-percent rice flour, and their Shirakawa daruma pork burgers’ patties are made from Shirakawa Kōgen Seiryū Ton (白河高原清流豚), which are highly-quality pork from pigs raised in Shirakawa highlands where there are clear and clean mountain waters. And of course, as a nice touch, the buns are sometimes inscribed with the message “I LOVE 白河”. This is one dish in Fukushima that will bring a smile to your face.

 

Hamadōri: Bounties from the sea

Our final destination brings us next to the Pacific Ocean, the last region being Hamadōri (浜通り). The region name can be translated as “coastal path” as its eastern front runs completely along the sea. Our foodie trail stops here, a befitting end where Fukushima’s cuisine is completed with gifts from the sea.

 

⑫ Dobu jiru (どぶ汁) / Anko nabe (あんこう鍋)

Dobu jiru/anko nabe. (Image credit: JNTO)

 

During the cold winter months, the go-to dish to warm up the body is the hotpot (なべ nabe). Every region in Japan has their own specialty hotpot that is best enjoyed during the frigid period, including Fukushima. For their special hotpot, they use a not-so-usual fish of choice: the monkfish.

 

Monkfish/anglerfish, the main ingredient for anko nabe. (Image credit: Ibaraki Prefectural Government) 

 

Monkfish (あんこう ankō), otherwise known as anglerfish, is a type of deep-sea fish known for unusual look (specifically, its large mouth and jagged teeth). The fish is especially popular among fishermen who would use it to make a meal and enjoy onboard their ships called dobu jiru or anko nabe. To make the hotpot, the fish liver (あんきも ankimo) is fried, then mix it with the fish meat and vegetables, and finally seasoned with miso paste. Dobu jiru and anko nabe slightly differ in one aspect: the former uses no water at all, and the soup is drawn only from the fish and fried liver, resulting in a broth that's immensely thicker and richer than the latter.

 

The hotpot is enjoyed specially in winter in southeastern Fukushima and the northern city of Kitaibaraki (北茨城市 Kitaibaraki-shi) that borders between Ibaraki (茨城県 Ibaraki-ken) and Fukushima. It’s an incredibly hearty dish that spans across prefectures and best enjoyed in groups.

 

The prefectures of Tohoku Region have some of the most diverse and delectable cuisines in Japan, and Fukushima is a fine example. Whether it is ramen or soba or hotpot, there’s always something delicious to look forward to when in the prefecture. Plan your next epicurean tour to Fukushima and experience a cuisine that you won’t forget.

 

More details on Fukushima

Fukushima Prefecture is located in the southern part of Tohoku Region, and is reachable from Tokyo by bullet train. Visitors from Tokyo can take the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train from JR Tokyo Station (JR東京駅 Tōkyō-eki) to JR Fukushima Station (JR福島駅 Fukushima-eki), which should take about 1 hour 30 minutes.

 

Aizu: the region is in the westernmost part of Fukushima, and the main city in the region is Aizu-Wakamatsu (会津若松市 Aizu-Wakamatsu-shi). Visitors from either Tokyo or Fukushima can take the Tohoku Shinkansen to JR Kōriyama Station (JR郡山駅 Kōriyama-eki), and then transfer to the Banetsu West Line (磐越西線 Ban'etsu-sai-sen) to reach JR Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (JR会津若松駅 Aizu-Wakamatsu-eki). The whole journey takes 1 hour 35 minutes from Fukushima to Aizu-Wakamatsu with a fare of ¥4,380, or 2 hours 55 minutes with a fare of ¥9,440 if you’re coming from Tokyo.

 

Nakadōri: this is the mid-region of Fukushima that includes the capital city of the same name. JR Fukushima Station and JR Kōriyama Station ((JR郡山駅 Kōriyama-eki) are directly connected to JR Tokyo Station via the Tohoku Shinkansen and other major train stations in the region. The journey from Tokyo to Kōriyama using the Tohoku Shinkansen takes 1 hour 20 minutes with a fare of ¥8,340; from Tokyo to Fukushima, it takes 1 hour 30 minutes with a fare of ¥9,110. Between Kōriyama and Fukushima, it takes less than 15 minutes and the fare is ¥3,260.

 

Hamadōri: the region is in the easternmost part of Fukushima, directly facing the Pacific Ocean, and the main city here is Iwaki (いわき市 Iwaki-shi). Visitors from Tokyo can take the Limited Express Hitachi (ひたち) directly from JR Tokyo Station to JR Iwaki Station (JRいわき駅 Iwaki-eki). The whole journey takes 2 hours 20 minutes with a fare of ¥6,290. Alternatively, they can go from Tokyo or Fukushima to JR Kōriyama Station and then transfer to the Banetsu East Line (磐越東線 Ban'etsu-tō-sen) to reach JR Iwaki Station. The whole journey takes 2 hours from Fukushima to Iwaki with a fare of ¥5,040, or 3 hours with a fare of ¥9,990 if you’re coming from Tokyo.

(INSIDER TIP: If you have the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), you can travel on the Tohoku Shinkansen, Limited Express Hitachi, and the train lines mentioned above, and make seat reservations, all for free!)

 

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area. It's a 5-day flexible pass where you can choose any 5 days within a 14-day period for your travel, and the 5 days need not be consecutive either. It's ¥19,350 when you buy it overseas, and you can use it to travel by train from Tokyo to Fukushima and back, and to the different regions of Fukushima. Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to a month in advance for free.

 

For more information of the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), you can visit the link here.

 

Header image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会

 

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