If you are planning to head out to admire the autumn foliage, one of the most popular and well-known spots to do so will have to be Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, thanks to its proximity from Tokyo. While you are treating your eyes to the best sights this season and exploring various beautiful places in Tochigi, how about doing the same for your taste buds by trying three of the prefecture’s signature foods in the nearby capital city of Utsunomiya?
When in Tochigi, you should try their lemon milk which is considered the soul drink of the locals. There is actually no lemon juice added to this drink, although it has the fragrance of lemons and has a light yellow color. If juice from citrus fruits is added to milk, it will become something similar to cottage cheese so it is impossible to make lemon milk in such a way.
This drink was first produced under the name of “Kanto Lemon Gyunyu (関東レモン牛乳)” by a long-time dairy product company in Utsunomiya named Kanto Gyunyu (関東牛乳) soon after the end of World War II. Since then, it had become a popular drink among the locals. Unfortunately, the company was closed down in September 2004, thus leading to a temporary suspension in the production of this product. In January 2005, Tochigi Nyugyou (栃木乳業) took over the brand and released the milk again under the name of “Kanto Tochigi Lemon.”
Note that there is another brand of lemon milk produced by Hariya which is a bit different from Tochigi’s version. Hariya’s version is less sweet due to the use of isomerized glucose syrup as compared to Tochigi that uses sugar. As for the coloring, Tochigi uses Monascus and Carthamus red, while Hariya uses gardenia.
At the mention of Utsunomiya, people usually think of it as a gyoza paradise. However, it is also well known for its yakisoba which features thick noodles along with ingredients such as cabbage, squid, meat, ham, and sunny-side up eggs. The composition of the ingredients will depend on the restaurant you are eating at.
Unlike most versions of the yakisoba sold elsewhere, a unique feature of Utsunomiya’s version is that you can choose to add the sauce according to your preference. So even if you are buying it as a takeaway, the sauce will be packed separately in a plastic bag. As such, whether you like your yakisoba light or deeply flavored, you will be able to customize this as you wish.
To get a feel of how much the locals love gyoza, just take a look around at the 300 or so gyoza restaurants in Utsunomiya. Each restaurant has its own specialty so you will be able to sample a variety of gyoza in the city. With the stone statues dotting the streets, souvenirs such as key holders, and confectionery snacks featuring the gyoza, it’s obvious that this dish is in a league of its own, thus earning Utsunomiya the title, “Gyoza City.”
If you would like to taste various types of gyoza under one roof, you have to visit the gyoza theme park named Kirasse (来らっせ) which offers a mix of 33 shops – some brands are permanent tenants, while the others are rotated on a daily basis. You may also buy frozen gyoza here and have them delivered anywhere in Japan without paying a delivery fee. There are also occasional events held here such as a gyoza making workshop which needs prior reservations. Kirasse is open every day from 11:00 AM to 8:30 PM on weekdays and until 9:00 PM on weekends and public holidays.
If you happen to be in Utsunomiya during the first weekend of November, check out the Utsunomiya Gyoza Festival (宇都宮餃子祭り) where you can savor the best gyoza from gyoza restaurants within the city for the very low price of just 100 yen per plate! For 2017, you may wish to make a trip to Utsunomiya on the 4th and 5th of November to take part in this annual gyoza event.
After reading so much about these delicacies, how about planning a trip to Utsunomiya soon to savor their best and satisfy your craving for tasty food?
Utsunomiya City Website *Automatic translation available