Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) needs no introduction as it renowned the world over for producing Japan’s arguably most delicious rice and sake. But do you know that it is home to scrumptious fruits, delectable seafood, and exquisite artisanal products as well? What’s more, it is a mere two hours from Tokyo (東京) by Shinkansen (bullet train), which makes getting there a breeze! Indeed, buying top-notch homegrown or handcrafted souvenirs has never been so much fun. Here are 10 must-buy souvenirs in Niigata to put on your shopping list!
As Niigata experiences heavy snowfall, it is no wonder that it produces exceptionally delicious Koshihikari rice as the melted snow brings clear clean water to the fertile soil, thus facilitating its growth. Be sure to get yourself a small packet of Koshihikari rice as its enticing appearance, fluffy texture, sweet flavor, and appetizing aroma will make your meals a prized experience to remember! In fact, Koshihikari rice is said to be so tasty that you can just eat it on its own straight out of your rice cooker!
With water and rice that taste so awesome, Niigata has a thriving sake production industry where around 90 breweries impress sake connoisseurs with their “Niigata tanrei,” a phrase that describes the refreshingly light, crisp, and dry taste of Niigata sake. This is surely attributed to some breweries’ laborious production methods. For example, Maruyama Sake Brewing (丸山酒店), the manufacturer of famous brand Sake Secchubai (雪中梅), still shuns away from automation in its production of koji (rice mold), preferring to rely on traditional methods which, in turn, improves the quality of its sake.
So if you wish to pair sake with your food, head on down to the Ponshukan Sake and Rice Museum (ぽんしゅ館) in Niigata where you can taste up to 129 kinds of sake for just 100 yen per cup of sake!
Japanese people love their curry, but Niigata people are particularly enamored of curry. Apparently, this is because most specialties in Niigata like rice and sake are either white or transparent, thus stirring a desire in Niigata people to have a dash of bright color to enliven their meal. Whatever the case, you can be certain that Niigata curry is nothing like you have savored before.
Go on, treat your taste buds to a smorgasbord of flavors with Lerch’s Curry from Joetsu City (上越市). Made up of Niigata beef, wine from Iwanohara Vineyard, and Joetsu miso paste, Lerch’s Curry is a culinary delight not to be missed!
You may have raised your eyebrows in surprise earlier when you read that Lerch’s Curry showcases wine from Iwanohara Vineyard. Well, with the large amount of snowfall in Niigata, the founder of this vineyard was ingenious enough to build a yukimuro or a snow storehouse so that snow can be stored for the maturation of wine all year round. Not only that, Iwanohara Vineyard also boasts two wine cellars that leverage natural methods of storage to keep wine at a cooling 17 degrees Celsius!
Why not try out Miyukibana, a fruity and floral wine that goes particularly well with grilled meat?
Do you know that edamame beans are the perfect complement to beer as it contains the amino acid methionine which helps to protect the liver from being damaged? In Niigata, you can buy Niigata chamame grown in the Kurosaki (黒崎) district. They are widely considered to be one of the most delectable varieties of edamame beans in the whole of Japan. I assure you that once you start eating these Niigata chamame beans, you can’t stop, for they are irresistibly crisp and they give out a rich aroma!
Imported from France to Niigata in the early 20th century, Le Lectier pear trees have flourished around Niigata City’s Minami Ward (南区) ever since. Le Lectier pears come into season only from the end of November to December, so grab the chance to savor their classic mellow flavor and smooth, melt-in-the-mouth texture then. After all, they are not known as “The Lady of All Pears” for nothing!
If you can’t make it to Niigata when Le Lectier pears are in season, don’t despair. You can devour limited edition Niigata Kit Kat chocolate that features Le Lectier pear-flavored wafers covered in creamy white chocolate instead!
Another fruit that is the pride and joy of Niigata residents is the Echigohime (Princess of Echigo) strawberries which will surely whet your appetite with their big size and sweet fragrance. Indeed, once you bite into their juicy flesh, you will understand why they are bestowed with the title of princess – they are as sweet as a princess!
Delicious snacks are aplenty in Niigata. Earlier, Japan Info has introduced to you sasa dango (dumplings made from glutinous rice and red bean paste). Another local sweet that you should definitely get your hands on is poppo-yaki. Easily available at the Bandai City Bus Center (万代シテイバスセンター) and at the many poppo-yaki specialty stores, poppo-yaki is a steamed bread flavored with brown sugar. Its chewy and springy texture is addictive and will leave you hankering for more. Itadakimasu!
Tsuiki-Doki copperware refers to hammered copperware and is a specialty product of Tsubame, a city in Niigata. Utilizing their sophisticated skills that have been passed down from generation to generation since the Edo era, professional craftsmen use dozens of iron shaping rods and hammers to whip the copper into the desired shape before laminating it with tin. The resulting tea kettles not only put people in the mood for tea appreciation with their elegant and intricate designs, but also make sure that the tea you brew is smooth and layered.
Chopsticks are the quintessential Japanese tool, and in Sanjo City (三条市) – another industrial city in Niigata – you can procure artisanal sixteen-sided (!) Marunao chopsticks that are beautifully inlaid with silver. Due to the sheer number of sides, these chopsticks allow you to grip food easily and firmly, thus allowing you to focus on appreciating food to the fullest!
Having read so much about the fascinating range of souvenirs in Niigata, aren’t you itching to pay a visit and get up close with these intriguing foods, beverages, and tools? Have fun shopping to your heart’s content in Niigata!