5 Famous Foods You’ll Find in Wakayama
Ramen so tasty it made international news.
Upon visiting Japan for the first time, many visitors are taken aback at just how diverse the food culture here is. It’s far more than just sushi and sashimi.
Indeed, each of Japan’s 47 Prefectures has their own unique local cuisine, utilizing the best local produce and traditional cooking methods. Today, we home in on one of those places, Wakayama Prefecture, the Kansai region’s most eastern prefecture.
Do you know Wakayama's favorite cat?
Here is the rundown of the Top 5 local dishes to enjoy next time you are in Wakayama.
1) Wakayama ramen
Ramen noodles are, of course, famous all across Japan for their delicious soft texture and rich, fulfilling soup.
However, Wakayama has its own unique take on this famous Japanese dish. In fact, to the locals, the dish isn’t even called Ramen. In Wakayama, it is known as Chuka Soba, which literally means “Chinese Noodles”. Whilst the Ramen stables of pork, spring onion and shoyu feature prominently, given Wakayama’s coastal setting, many local ramen bowls are also augmented with varieties of seafood.
If you really like your ramen, then why not try the “Best Ramen in Japan”. Ide Shoten, a restaurant near Wakayama Station, in Wakayama City, was last year voted the most delicious Ramen in Japan. It was so popular it was even featured on CNN in 2017.
2) Kujira no tatsuta-age
Ok, this is going to be controversial inclusion. Kujira no tatsuta-age is basically battered, deep-fried whale meat. Ethically it’s difficult to justify eating this, given that many whales are endangered species these days. However, it is irrefutably tasty.
The sweet soy-sauce-based batter is heavier than a typical tempura, and thicker, giving a fuller flavour. The meat itself has the taste of tuna, but the texture of chicken, making for a unique experience. Whale meat is still fairly common on lunch menus if you work in a public school in Japan, so I had it a few times in my earlier years here in Japan. It’s delicious, but for the environment’s sake I think we all have a duty to eat this in moderation.
3) Meharizushi (stuffed grape leaves)
If you’ve ever been to Greece, there’s probably a fair chance you’ve had the opportunity to sample dolmades, a Greek delicacy. Made by wrapping scented cooked rice in olive oil glazed vine leaves, it’s a close as you can get to an onigiri (rice ball) in European cuisine. In Wakayama, this is called meharizushi, which is very reminiscent of this classic Greek dish.
Like its Hellenic counterpart, meharizushi also consists of a ball of rice wrapped in a local leaf. In this case, we use, not vine leaves, but specially pickled “Takana” (mustard leaves). The pickling process creates a taste that is noticeably sharper and lingers longer than the milder dolmades. Still, the relative blandness of the rice plays off well as a contrast to strong flavour one gets from the takana leaves. Meharizushi is best enjoyed alongside a cold beer on a warm day.
4) Kue nabe (Long-tooth grouper hotpot)
If you fancy something a bit more classy and up-market for your dinner in Wakayama on a cold wintery afternoon, then try kue nabe. Kue, known as long-tooth grouper in English, is a fish indigenous to the waters off Wakayama’s eastern coast. It is relatively rare and tends to fetch a high price. So, Kue will not be a cheap dish at the restaurant, but it is worth it.
Typically, the nabe (hotpot) is made with slices of kue, alongside tofu and another local delicacy: shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves). You’ll also find numerous other popular nabe vegetables inside the pot, such as carrots, bean sprouts, potatoes and spring onions. Don’t forget that the best part of the nabe comes at the end. Once you’ve eaten all the fish and vegetables, pour some rice and break a couple of eggs into the remaining warm broth to make a delicious final bowl of Congee-style goodness.
5) Kishu Plum Sauce
OK, so this is more of a garish than an actual dish in its own right, but this last item really is something special.
Plum marinade is fairly common across a number of Japan’s prefectures. However kishu plums are highly sought after, for their especially sweet taste and enticing aroma.
You’ll find them served as a paste-like garnish on everything from yakitori chicken skewers to beef steaks. For me, I like to marinade a couple of chicken breasts with the kishu plum relish and then grill them. The plum relish will absorb into the chicken as it roasts, granting a taste sensation like no other.
Wakayama has a huge range of restaurants, bars and other facilities catering to a variety of tastes and palettes. For the best experience though, try to head beyond Wakayama City itself. You’ll find lots of smaller towns and villages dotted along the coastline, each with their own special dishes and individual sense of hospitality.
Wakayama is a place not often mentioned but seldom forgotten. That goes for its food, too!