Culinary specialties of Iwate Prefecture 岩手県の名物
Jajamen from Morioka
Wanko soba from Morioka
The cuisine of northern Japan
While primarily known for its mountains and green cities, Iwate Prefecture in northern Honshu is also renowned throughout Japan for its gastronomy. Discover some of the local specialties.
1. Jajamen (Morioka)
Belonging to the "Three Great Noodles" of Morioka along with reimen and wanko soba, jajamen have made the capital of Iwate prefecture famous throughout Japan. Very similar to udon, these noodles are traditionally served in broth accompanied by onion, cucumber and meat cooked with miso. If you pass through Morioka, you will have no trouble finding it. Very inexpensive, jajamen are a must-try in Morioka and locals enjoy eating it throughout the year.
2. Reimen (Morioka)
Unlike jajamen, reimen is enjoyed only in summer. Made from wheat flour, these cold noodles have a special history. Although today they are undoubtedly on the list of specialties of Iwate Prefecture, they have long been associated with the Korean community of northern Japan. It was only in the 1950s that the latter popularized them in Morioka, during the golden age of yakiniku (Korean barbecue).
Inspired by naengmyoen, a Korean-based noodle soup with buckwheat flour, potatoes and sweet potatoes, today's recipe for reimen is typically Japanese. On the menu? Cold noodles, beef broth and kimchi, regularly topped with some seasonal fruits like watermelon or pineapple.
3. Wanko soba (Morioka)
Derived from the word wanko meaning ''small bowl'' in Morioka dialect, wanko soba refers to soba (buckwheat noodles) that are served in a small bowl. Not enough to fill you up, you might think, and there's a reason for that! Much more than just a simple dish, these noodles are actually associated with the "Wanko Soba Challenge", a local tradition that consists of eating as much soba as possible in one meal. Once your bowl is finished, there's no time to breathe: restaurant staff immediately appear, shouting "Hai dan dan!" ("Yes! More!") in encouragement!
If you want to test your limits (and your stomach's), know that many restaurants in Morioka offer this challenge, like the Azumaya Soba Shop, 10 minutes by bus from the main station of the city, a wanko soba specialist for almost 100 years. For 3000 yen ($28), you can try to break the restaurant's record: 500 bowls in one meal! Can you do better?
4. Kamaishi ramen
Kamaishi is renowned for its ramen. What makes them unique? These noodles are much thinner than the average ramen noodle, and are served in a light, soy-based broth. Very light and qick to make, this dish was originally created as a snack for factory workers after a long day of work. Today you can find it in most restaurants in the city.
5. Iwate Wagyu Beef
Recognized worldwide, Japanese beef, called "wagyu" is one of the most tender meats in the world. The most famous variety is from Kobe, but there are other regions in Japan, such as Iwate, where it has also been cooked for centuries.
Unlike other wagyu cattle, who are black, Iwate cows have a nice brown coat. Raised in the hills of the prefecture, their meat is also very tender and tasty. This is why the meat should be appreciated as steak, shabu-shabu (Japanese hotpot) or grilled.
Wagyu beef grilling
Wagyu beef in soy sauce over rice
Wagyu beef shabu-shabu
6. Ichinoseki mochi
While mochi is popular throughout Japan, these small glutinous rice cakes are a specialty of the city of Ichinoseki, south of Iwate Prefecture. There you can find them filled with everything, from shrimp to sesame, soybean or red bean!
A true local institution, some restaurants even offer meals consisting solely of mochi, from starter to dessert. Just like at Sekinoichi restaurant, a 10-minute walk from Ichinoseki station, which offers special mochi menus for less than 2,000 yen ($16).
7. Nanbu senbei (Aomori)
An Aomori specialty, the prefecture adjoining northern Iwate, nanbu senbei are also popular in the neighboring prefecture. Made from wheat, these small dry crackers are very popular with young and old alike. Although there are several varieties of nanbu senbei, the best known are those flavored with peanut, pistachio, and apple.
Aomori sits between mountains and lakes