A culinary journey through the Aomori Prefecture of northern Japan
I have always loved Japanese cuisine. Sushi, ramen, miso soup and pickled vegetables are just some of the dishes I look forward to tucking into when planning a trip to my local Japanese.
So it was with great excitement that I arranged my first ever visit to Japan in February, to spend five days in the Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan’s Tohoku region. This is traditionally a popular destination for ski tourism, but I was more interested in discovering its culinary delights.
Like the rest of the county, cuisine in northern Japan centres around the tradition of washoku (meaning “food of Japan”) based on rice with miso soup and variety of side dishes encompassing seasonal vegetables pickled or cooked in broth, fresh fish – either grilled or raw “sashimi” – and the occasional inclusion of beef or pork.
What makes the Aomori Prefecture stand out is its fabulous selection of fresh, affordable seafood.
Fresh seafood in Hachinohe
We started our journey in the coastal city of Hachinohe in the Aomori Prefecture. It takes about three hours to travel there by bullet train from Tokyo, but remains one of Japan’s undiscovered tourist destinations – only two UK travellers were registered as visiting the city.
Hachinohe’s unofficial mascot is the squid (the official one is the horse) – they’re a very popular dish and come in all forms, from tempura (deep-fried in panko breadcrumbs) to sashimi.
One of the best places to enjoy a squiddy lunch is at the food market at the Hasshoku Center. Simply choose your seafood as you wander through the market, pop to the booze section for a bottle of plum, then head to Shichirin-mura, where customers can grill their seafood purchases over glowing charcoal braziers.
We feasted on a selection of scallops, squid, salmon, clam and even whelk – a type of sea snail contained in a spiralled shell which I found rather challenging to extract with chopsticks.
Another place to enjoy a delicious seafood breakfast is the Mutsuminato Morning Market (open 3am to noon), a traditional market with some beautifully prepared fresh seafood. You can buy a bowl of rice and miso soup (containing giant king prawns) with salmon sashimi and seaweed for less than £10.
Strawberry picking in Nanbu Town
Seasonal produce is an important part of Japanese cooking and influences the choice of crisps and chocolates in supermarkets. For instance, strawberries are grown in the winter indoors, so during February and March, you’ll notice a lot of strawberry flavoured chocolate.
The variation in temperature in this region makes it ideal for fruit production, and the berries here grow particularly large and sweet. At the Berries Tsukasa Farm, you are given a basket and a small bowl of condensed milk, and you have 40 minutes to pick and eat as many strawberries as you fancy.
Takko Garlic Centre
If like me, you love garlic, then Takko Garlic Centre is an absolute must-visit. The garlic centre is the only one of its kind in Japan and produces more than 100 garlic themed products using black and white garlic produced on the farm.
Every year the town of Takko hosts a beef and garlic festival in February where they crown the garlic queen. The festival brings a lot of joy to the region and attracts more than 10,000 people to Takko.