Yamaguchi has always been known for its impressive cuisine. In the past, the prefecture was one of the best places to find fresh ingredient because of the large farming and fishing industries. Nower days Yamaguchi is known to be an old fashioned region that sits on the western tail of Honshu. Part of that old fashioned reputation comes from the classic Japanese diet that most locals still stick to.
The region is very proud of its local delicacies and is regularly featured on Japanese TV as a great place for gastro-tourism. Unfortunately, the foods in this article aren’t always talked about in English. It’s time to introduce the wonderful world of Yamaguchi cuisine.
1. Fugu (Blowfish)
Undoubtedly Yamaguchi’s most famous food is the Fugu fish.
This local speciality has made it into the western public consciousness, but something was lost in translation. Many will know this food as the poisonous blow fish that can kill you if prepared incorrectly. A misconception that was actually popularised by The Simpsons episode 2 One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.
It is true that Fugu fish are naturally poisonous, but it is very easy to prepare them in a way so that the poisonous part never even touches the section you eat. If you order Fugu in a respected restaurant there should be nothing to worry about.
The Fugu fish is considered a delicacy and can be eaten; cooked, in crackers, in sushi or in the recommended style of sashimi. The Fugu fish live along the coast of Yamaguchi, thus the region has a reputation as the best place to eat them as they are the freshest around.
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Yamaguchi prefecture is very proud of its Fugu and even used a cute version of the fish as one of the prefectural mascots.
2. Tsuki de hirotta tamago
Photo by: Alfie Blincowe
This sweet food which is called tsuki de hirotta tamago in Japanese actually translates to the name “Eggs from the moon,” but don’t worry, you won’t have any aliens bursting out of your chest.
These cakes are made from castella cake and house a custardy cream in the middle. They are seriously tasty and very more-ish. Many foods in Japan are seasonal and should only be eaten at certain times of year but this one can be eaten all year round because they adapt.
Depending on the season you will find different flavours such as matcha, chestnut, chocolate, or pudding. These little cakes can be found all over Japan, but they are very much a Yamaguchi food.
3. Iwakuni sushi
Photo by: Westwind
Known as the sushi for foreigners, Iwakuni sushi is something that you should definitely try. It is actually very different from most other sushi in that the rice is favoured with sweetness and it has no fish on top.
Named after the city it originated from, Iwakuni sushi has become very popular. Especially with the marines from the local military base, hence its foreigner-friendly reputation.
Iwakuni sushi is made in a square pan and then cut into rectangular pieces, similar to how you would make and serve brownies. The individual pieces sometimes have cooked prawns on top but often have only a vegetable topping or no topping at all.
4. Sanzoku chicken
In the wild mountains of Yamaguchi, Pirates lay in wait, pillaging passersby, or so the locals would have you believe.
Mountain bandits did use to be a problem in the region hundreds of years ago, the locals call them mountain pirates and are very pleased with this part of their history. Over time these mountain bandits have been romanticized and now a restaurant has opened up in one of their old hideouts.
The most famous of these restaurants is Sanzoku and it is a spectacular sight to see, as well as a great place to eat. Sanzoku is made up of two areas: an inside area that is a replica of the large thatched shack the bandits would have lived in, and an outside area made of tables that spill into the woods. Both have charms and an amazing atmosphere.
The restaurant is famous for its chicken on a stick in “sanzoku sauce.” This is a skewered half of a chicken slathered in a gravy-type goodness. You will be expected to eat it off the stick, without cutlery, just like a real mountain bandit.
Sanzoku is located in the Kuga area, in the east of Yamaguchi, but there are similar restaurants near Shuto and Nishiki.
5. Kawara soba
Photo by: Wikimedia
A really unique dish of Yamaguchi prefecture, this noodle dish is not only delicious but has an important place in local history. Kawara soba is green tea soba noodle served with eggs, sukiyaki-style thin strips of beef and an assortment of vegetable in a sweet sauce. The thing that really sets this dish apart is that it is served atop a roof tile.
Kawara tiles are the roof tile that make Japanese houses look so distinctive. In 1887, Japan became embroiled in a civil war, often call the Satsuma rebellion. In Yamaguchi, fighting came to a standstill and the soldiers had to wait each other out. They were waiting for so long that Yamaguchi soldiers heated up roof tiles and used them to cook the meat and vegetable they could forage. Over time the dish has evolved but locals still serve it atop a tile to remember their proud history.
You’ll find restaurants serving this in Shimonoseki city and all across the prefecture.
Yamaguchi has a lot to experience, and for more must try meals in Japan, see our food and drink section.