If you’ve heard of Niigata prefecture before, it might be only in the context of ski resorts – the area gets dumped with one of the world’s largest amounts of snowfall each year, so they’ve got perfect powdery slopes that are fantastic for all manner of winter sports.
The prefecture also has a reputation for producing some of the country’s best sake, but what isn’t as well known is the unique food you can find in the region. Wondering what Niigata has to offer the foodie? Wonder no more. Here’s five of the best tastebud tantalizing Niigata specialties you’ll find in this charming part of Japan.
1. Koshihikari Rice
If somewhere is renowned for good sake, you’ve got to assume that they’re also going to have pretty darn good rice. Niigata’s specialty is koshihikari rice, and you’ll find fields of it dotting the prefecture, nourished by all that pure snowmelt water.
If you think rice is just rice, try some koshihikari and be prepared to challenge that notion. Wondering where to get it? You’ll find koshihikari served up at just about every restaurant in the region – they know that it’s good stuff, and many places are too proud to serve anything else.
Spain has the churro, Italy has crostoli – and Niigata has poppoyaki. Poppoyaki consists of steamed bread served up in stick form and flavored with brown sugar — and the name comes from the pop-pop-pop sound that they make while they cook.
They’ve got just the right amount of sweetness without being cloying, and you’ll undoubtedly be able to stop at just one. You can often find poppoyaki served up at festivals across Niigata, so if you’re visiting be sure to check out both the local culture and their favorite sweet snack.
3. Hegi Soba
Soba might not be a new dish to you, but hegi soba could very well be. The “hegi” part of this Niigata specialty comes from the name of the wooden tray that the noodles are served in.
The noodles themselves are wound into perfectly bite-sized portions and have an interesting additional ingredient added in with the usual buckwheat flour and water – seaweed!
It doesn’t change much in the way of the flavor of the noodles, but does make them a little more slippery to pick up with your chopsticks. Challenge accepted though, right?
Stews are a popular winter food all around the world, with different variations on the dish from country to country – and when you’ve got a winter season as long as Niigata does, then you want to do comfort food right.
The prefecture’s take on the humble meal is Noppe, where everything from konjac to sweet potatoes, fried tofu and shiitake mushrooms are thrown into the pot. It’s one of those stick to your bones meals that will warm you up and give you the energy to continue that day of snowboarding or skiing you’ve got planned in the region.
You may have heard of dango before – it’s the much-loved spherical dumpling treat which is most commonly seen served up on a stick. Well, Niigata throws sticks to the wind – sasadango consists of mochi and red beans wrapped up in none other than a bamboo leaf. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and functional, since the leaf works to preserve the goods inside. Clever, no?
Header image via @seahappy5500