Traditions: Food

ご当地グルメ Regional Specialty

ご当地グルメ Regional Specialty

Food, food, food. Upon your visit to Japan, you must try the food! And no, Japanese food isn't all about sushi and teriyaki. Like how Philadelphia is known for the philly cheese steak, and New York for their bagels, different regions in Japan also have specialties. In fact, ご当地グルメ (ごとうちぐるめ・gotouchi gurume・gotouchi = regional, gurume = gourmet/ specialty) probably gets more attention in Japan than they do in the US.

お好み焼き お好み焼き

Hokkaido is the big island prefecture north of Honshu. Hokkaido is known for their ラーメン (らーめん・ra-men・rame). No, not the cheap instant noodles, the real stuff made from scratch. This fast and popular dish is most often eaten out, which is why ラーメン横町 (らーめんよこちょう・ra-men yokocho・ramen alley) exist. ラーメン横町 are streets of competing ラーメン restaurants lined up side-by-side. Hokkaido's ラーメン is so good, competitors all over Japan try to imitate this fabulous dish.

The Shizuoka prefecture, home of Mt. Fuji, is known for their 緑茶 (りょくちゃ・ryokucha・green tea). The Shizuoka climate is ideal for tea crops which is why it produces the most 緑茶. With centuries of tea growth experience, Shizuoka 緑茶 is recognized as the tea prefecture.

Although a bit controversial, the お好み焼き (おこのみやき・okonomiyaki) is considered to be Osaka/Hiroshima's ご当地グルメ. It's a savory vegetable pancake-like dish that is typically made on a hot plate and served with a special sauce. If you ask anyone from Osaka, they'll tell you it's Osaka's ご当地グルメ, and if you ask anyone from Hiroshima, they'll tell you it's theirs.

People may be less familiar with this prefecture (compared to those like Kyoto, Osaka, or Tokyo), but their ご当地グルメ is a very popular dish in Japan. うどん (udon) noodles, specifically known as the 讃岐うどん (さぬきうどん・sanuki udon), is a thick wheat pasta served with 出汁 (だし・dashi・fish broth). If you go to a Japanese/Asian market, it is often found near the ラーメン section.

Way, way south in the Pacific Ocean, there is a tiny island prefecture called Okinawa. If you're looking for a country side beach resort in Japan, this is the island you want to be on. Located far from mainland Japan, Okinawa's environment is very unique, particularly due to foreign presence of the American military there. Okinawa is known to be the Hawaii of Japan. Their tropical climate makes for a very tropical diet, so their sweets are delightful. Okinawa is famous for their sugar doughnut さーたーあんだぎー (sa-ta-andagi-). This simple, crispy, sweet dessert is most definitely worth the trip!

さーたーあんだぎー from Okinawa さーたーあんだぎー from Okinawa


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
ご当地グルメ ごとうちぐるめ gotouchi gurume gotouchi = regional, gurume = gourmet/specialty
緑茶 りょくちゃ ryokucha green tea
お好み焼き おこのみやき okonomiyaki okonomiyaki

Weird お菓子

Even though I'm too old to be out trick-or-treating, November is still the month of candies and sweets. When I've taken back American お菓子(おかし・okashi・okashi) to Japan, I've gotten some "ew, how can you eat that?" kind of reactions. But when I thought about it, there are just so many bizarre お菓子 in Japan, they really have no right to hate on others'.

Weird お菓子 Weird Okashi - Curry-set, Osushiya-san, Cake-ya-san

楽しい お菓子
Before we go into the gross stuff, lets start with the たのしい(たのしい・tanoshii・fun) type of お菓子. The brand Popin' Cookin' makes these boxed candies that are kits to make edible replicas of other things. For Example, they have a kit to make sushi-shaped candy, curry-shaped, ramen, bento, etc. It comes with the tray and candy mixes, all you need is water. You follow the instructions, mix the powders with water or provided liquid, pour them into the mold and voila! Perhaps not the best tasting, but it can definitely keep many kids (and I'm sure adults) occupied for a while. There's a lot of youtube videos if you're interested in seeing how this building candy thing looks in action.

限定 お菓子
It seems like Japanese candy companies just assume that a product will be an instant hit as long as they slab on the word 限定(げんてい・gentei・limited (edition)) on the packaging. Now, mind you, some of these are actually pretty good, like matcha kit-kat or sweet potato caramel. But when you start mixing in meat, natto, or mayo with candy… that's a no-no. We know that, but somehow we're still reaching for that box…

Some museums will have free admission on this day, or will put up special exhibits around this time of year. Those in Japan during this time of year should check these out. If you like Japanese sports, November 3rd is also the day that the National Kendo Competition is held in the famous Nippon Budoukan arena - nationally televised by NHK.

面白い お菓子
And there are those that are so out there that it's plain 面白い(おもしろい・omoshiroi・funny/interesting). One お菓子 that I often found abused in Japan are ドロップス(どろっぷす・doroppusu・literally "drops", but they're essentially hard candy). And by abused, I mean they make all kinds of crazy flavored ones. It's become somewhat of the food equivalent of collector's spoons.

Everywhere you go, people have designed their own kind of ドロップス, only available there. For example, Miyagi prefecture is known for a barbeque dish involving cow tongue. Now, the cow tongue BBQ is completely fine on its own and I'm sure I the ドロップスwas too. But no, they have to fix the two to make the Miyagi 限定, cow-tongue ドロップス. If you're ever somewhere in Japan with no idea what to get for your friends back home, go to the gift isle and you're bound to find something crazy among the ドロップス. They're fairly small and interesting to look at, I'm sure you'll get a few laughs while playing truth or dare.

Weird お菓子 Some examples of crazy ドロップス, from the left: eel, shio ramen, momiji-manjyuu, and oyster candy. Yum.


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
お菓子 おかし okashi okashi
たのしい たのしい tanoshii fun
限定 げんてい gentei limited (edition)
面白い おもしろい omoshiroi funny/interesting