5 Famous Foods You’ll Find in Nagano
If you are going to try horse sashimi, we recommend you do it here!
About 1 ½ hours east of Tokyo by bullet train, Nagano Prefecture is tucked away within picturesque mountain ranges and hot springs. Tourists come for its scenery and bountiful history, but it also has some unique cuisine not to be missed while traveling to famous places like Matsumoto City or the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Although these signature dishes may seem simple in appearance, they are hearty, flavorful and healthy. Here are five of the region’s famous eats to try during your next visit.
1) Shinshu soba
Soba, or buckwheat, noodles are found nationwide, but the Shinshu variety — bearing the prefecture’s old name — are regarded as some of the best. Nagano’s landscape of rich soil is excellent for producing buckwheat, which gives the noodles a rich, earthy color and flavor. Traditionally served cold with dashi (a simple broth for cooking stock, usually made from kelp and dried tuna flakes), grated daikon (Japanese radish) and green onion, Shinshu soba can also be served hot, making it a delectable staple year round. Complex, savory and most importantly filling, Shinshu soba will have you asking for seconds.
Made from fermented buckwheat dough and stuffed with anything ranging from anko (sweet red bean paste), meat, fruit or vegetables; oyaki (a type of Japanese dumpling) is the heart of Nagano. Pan fried and then steamed or boiled, the piping hot oyaki is far more than meets the eye. This hearty and juicy parcel is slightly crunchy yet pleasantly chewy. These homemade delicacies are often found in street stalls and pair well with a cup of hot amazake (a traditional sweet, fermented rice drink with little-to-no alcohol content) in fall or winter.
Salty, sour and with just a hint of sweetness, these tangy greens are pickled to perfection and have an unmistakable flavor. Nozawana-zuke (pickled mustard leaves), which Nagano is famous for producing, has a natural bitterness to it but when served as an accompanying side dish (or as a filling), nozawana-zuke is a refreshing complement to any meal. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner don’t be surprised to find nozawana-zuke accompanying your tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), fish dish or soba. This pickled green is often found in street stands stuffed inside onigiri (rice balls) or most commonly in hot oyaki.
Although tame by some standards, basashi (raw horse meat) is a must-try delicacy to include on your next trip, especially if you are near the city of Matsumoto. One place to sample this local specialty is at a restaurant called Shin Miyoshi which has been serving basashi for over 100 years. Basashi is handled at cold temperatures and served that way to prevent bacterial growth — that’s why you may sometimes find it served on ice. The pink meat is undeniably eye-catching. Often called sakura niku (cherry blossom meat), basashi is not very comparable to other meats. Low in fat and high in protein, basashi can be described as soft or chewy depending on the person and the preparation. Complemented with soy sauce, garlic and wasabi; it is reportedly sweeter than other meats and although it doesn’t taste like beef it’s certainly not gamey.
5) Shichimi togarashi
If you’re feasting on ramen, soup or similar dishes in Nagano they are all undeniably improved with a little dash of shichimi (seven flavors chili spice blend). It’s not exactly a food per se, but it’ll certainly enhance any dish and is used by locals. Shichimi is unmistakable in its iconic red-and-gold tin and after having a taste you’ll also find it unforgettable.
First and foremost, it’s spicy — very spicy. Shichimi is more complex than that, though. Behind the abundant heat, there’s also sesame, ginger, orange peel, hemp seed and other aromatics creating the perfect spice blend. Shichimi is not exclusive to Nagano, but it is widely loved there — as evidenced by a previous exclusive Shinshu region Kit Kat flavor Ichimi (one-flavor chili spice bend). You can also easily buy it after visiting the famous Zenkou-ji Temple.