5 Famous Foods You’ll Find in Niigata
There's more here than rice! These goodies don’t just taste good; they leave you with a good feeling.
🌟 Niigata Prefecture — GaijinPot Travel’s No. 1 place to visit in 2018! 🥇
Although Niigata is near synonymous with Japan’s top-quality Koshihikari rice, there are many other local nom-noms that will make an impression on your taste buds. As a lengthy prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan, Niigata prospers in its fishing industry and agriculture. Good food is abundant here, and most of it is cheap. So, here are five eats that are beloved by locals.
1. Noppe stew
Photo by: David Levy
Noppe is as familiar to Niigatans as oden (a Japanese winter pot dish) is to the whole of Japan — it is omnipresent at festivals, New Year celebrations and everyday family meals. Indeed, noppe and oden are very similar in the sense that both use a soy-flavored dashi broth. However, noppe isn’t served in convenience stores like oden is, perhaps because each region, or even household, prefers a differently nuanced taste.
Vegetables are the main ingredients for noppe, with the most popular being konjac potato jelly, carrot, lotus root and shiitake mushroom. The broth is made of soy sauce and cooking wine. Sometimes, taro or starch is added to thicken the broth, hence leading to a regional taste difference. Other local distinctions include salmon roe, chicken, fish, potato and ginkgo nuts.
Noppe is delicious warm or cold. So long as it reminds you of a unique Niigata memory, it is good noppe.
2. Hegi soba noodles
Soba noodles are common in Japan, but hegi soba noodles make the act of eating just that much smoother.
As hegi soba is made with funori seaweed, a prominent plant of Niigata’s Uonuma region, the noodles have a very “tsuru-tsuru” texture. Try to pronounce tsuru-tsuru and you’ll see: the noodles are so smooth that they could just slide down your throat without chewing much.
If this sleekly unique feel isn’t enough, know that hegi soba is slightly green and comes in coils, and it is a special soba experience.
That way, flavors are richer and will fill your mouth with deliciousness. This dish can be made at home, brought to school as a bento box side dish, or enjoyed at local izakaya. In fact, it matches very well with beer, however, it is loved by both adults and children.
Mochi, or sticky rice pounded into at paste (Rest assured that it’s English explanation doensn’t really give it justice.) is arguably one of the most popular Japanese sweets around the world. But have you tried a dark green herbal-flavored dessert filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped by bamboo leaves? That’s exactly what sasadango is, and you have probably have seen packs of them in shinkansen (bullet train) stations, department stores and gift shops in Niigata.
So, how exactly do you eat it? First, unwrap the bamboo leaves and then comes the refreshing aroma the leaves give off, then take a bite! The food is traditionally used at the annual “Boy’s Day” celebration in May, but now people eat it all year-round. There are even workshops where you can try making it.
Thank goodness poppo-yaki come in a big bundle because one will definitely not be enough. Poppo-yaki is a widely loved snack food made simply with wheat flour and brown sugar. They look like pancakes in the shape of long, thin sticks. While poppo-yaki doesn’t have a strong flavor, the subtle brown sugar sweetness and springy texture will make you crave more. Actually, pinching the spongy sticks itself is a joy to many children!
Poppo-yaki tastes best when they are freshly made. It is possible to get it fresh as they are frequently served at festival food stands. If you’re in Niigata during its quieter months, get your share of poppo-yaki at the Bandai Bus Center in Niigata City or numerous specialty stores.