In part three of our adventures with kyodo ryori (郷土料理) / Regional cuisine, we visit the Kanto and Chubu Regions of Japan.
The Kanto region consists of seven prefectures and is very densely populated. Tokyo and Yokohama, two of Japan’s largest metropolises are located within the Kanto region. The Chubu region, next door, is comprised of nine prefectures including: Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu, Yamanashi, Nagano and Niigata.
The Kanto dialect is the standard Japanese taught in schools. As the political, economic and cultural center of the nation, the region sets the pace that the rest of Japan tries to follow.
Known for its beautiful mountains, Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps, Chubu is divided into three distinct sub regions: Tokai, Koshinetsu, and Hokuriku. Three sub regions mean three different dialects and the food culture is different for each region as well.
For instance, in rural communities in Nagano and Gunma, you will find something called Inago no Tsukudani. Inago is a type of grasshopper that is stewed in sweetened soy sauce. In many souvenir shops within the area, you will find this delicacy packaged to bring home to your loved ones and friends as omiyage (souvenirs). Other regional fare popular in Nagano (Shinshu) is Oyaki and Soba.
Oyaki is basically a flour dumpling stuffed with vegetables seasoned with miso and soy sauce. The type of vegetables used vary with specific areas within Nagano.
Nagano is synonymous with soba noodles. Anywhere you go in Japan, the locals will tell you that you haven’t sampled soba until you have had Shinshu Soba! The area’s highlands are perfectly suited for growing buckwheat which is then ground and mixed with fresh, clean water flowing from Nagano’s mountains and the taste is quite remarkable if I say so myself!
But getting away from some of the more “exotic” kyodo ryori, other regional food items associated with the Kanto and Chubu regions include: Hoto (udon noodles stewed in a miso-based soup with vegetables such as kabocha, potatoes, mushrooms and sometimes meat), Monja Yaki (a savory pancake similar to okonomiyaki but much runnier. It is eaten directly off the grill using a special metal spatula.), Masuzuhi (associated with Toyama, it is sushi rice steamed in bamboo leaves with trout placed on top), Sauce Katsudon (pork cutlet, breaded and fried placed on top of rice with special with Worcestershire sauce), and Tekonezushi (Cuts of red-meat fish, such as skipjack tuna or bluefin, are placed in a soy-flavored marinade, then arranged on top of vinegared rice. This is garnished to taste with slivers of green shiso leaf, ginger root or nori seaweed.)
This list is by no means an all-inclusive list of kyodo ryori associated with these two regions but an introduction and a mere starting point for discovering all the wonderful delicacies the Kanto and Chubu regions have to offer. So go forth and be adventurous! Have you heard the term, have chopsticks, will travel?