Have you heard of the Japanese phrase, “shokuyoku no aki (食欲の秋)”? Literally, it means that people have an increased appetite for food during the autumn season, and there are three reasons as to why this theory holds true. First of all, many food items tend to be in-season during autumn where there is a lot of harvesting going on in the fields, farms, and seas. As such, there is a wide variety of delicious food that is readily available and tastes the best during this time of year. Secondly, the hot weather during summer tends to make people lose their appetite. So with the cooler weather in autumn, we tend to have a better appetite. Last but not least, it is said that animals, in general, tend to increase their food intake and store up on nutrients in their bodies before the harsh winter. This could be why human beings tend to have the urge to eat more in autumn.
Since this season for delicious food is not far ahead, how about trying these unique and tasty in-season local dishes from the six prefectures in the Tohoku region if you are traveling there this autumn?
Hachinohe Senbeijiru is a hot pot dish originating from Hachinohe City in Aomori Prefecture. It uses a dashi soup base, usually made from chicken or pork, and seasoned with soy sauce, although there are other variations using miso or salt. The main ingredient of this dish i.e. Nanbu senbei (南部煎餅), which was first made by the Hachinohe Domain, is then added. The dish also contains burdock, leek, carrots, konnyaku, and mushrooms, thus allowing the senbei to absorb the unique blend of flavors and become springy as you chew it.
Hachinohe Senbeijiru was developed by the Hachinohe Domain about 200 years ago during the late Edo era, thus it is not surprising to know that the majority of restaurants offering this dish in Aomori are all in Hachinohe City.
Back in 2003, there was also a Hachinohe Senbeijiru Research Institute (八戸せんべい汁研究所 – Japanese only) set up to promote the dish nationwide and do related research. Since then, the dish has won various accolades such as being selected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as one of the top 100 local dishes in 2007. It even had an official PR song made in 2006 which you can check here.
Mamebujiru is a signature dish from Kuji City in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県久慈市) where the main ingredient is mamebu i.e. small wheat balls containing a filling made from brown sugar and chestnuts. The dish’s significance lies in the hope that whoever eats it will be able to live diligently and healthily (“まめまめしく、健康で暮らせるように”).
The soup used in this dish is made from a soy sauce-based anchovy dashi which is then cooked with the mamebu and other ingredients such as burdock, carrots, deep-fried tofu, dried gourd, shimeji mushrooms, and grilled tofu. As this is a popular dish in local households, the composition of the ingredients may differ.
If you have watched the 2013 NHK morning drama, Amachan (あまちゃん), you may have seen this dish featured. It was described as an in-between food i.e. neither a snack nor a side dish because of its mix of sweet and savory flavors. With the drama’s immense popularity and the dish being featured in many charity events in Tohoku where it was distributed for free, it led to more people being more aware of this dish and its subsequent increased popularity.
Depending on the occasion, there are slight variations in the ways this dish is prepared. If it is served during a joyous occasion such as a wedding, the mamebu will be of a bigger size. On the other hand, if it is served during occasions like a funeral, the mamebu will be made smaller. In addition, there is a vegetarian version of this dish where the dashi is made of konbu (昆布) i.e. kelp.
When you take a look at Tonburi no Sunomono for the first time, you might be amazed or taken aback by its appearance. The word “tonburi” actually refers to the seeds of the houkisou (ほうき草) i.e. kochia, which is nicknamed as the “caviar of the fields” due to its texture and appearance. It is said that the tonburi contains a high amount of saponin which is useful in lowering blood pressure. The tonburi is usually mixed with natto or placed as a topping over pickled Chinese yam or salads which will accentuate its flavor.
Aburafudon may look like a katsudon at first sight, but it actually features a local food from Tome City (宮城県登米市) i.e. the aburafu rather than meat as its main ingredient. It is said that this dish was conceptualized about 30 years ago for the sake of people who didn’t like to have meat in their rice bowls. As such, the aburafu, which is wheat gluten deep fried in vegetable oil, takes the place of the meat and is cooked with eggs just like a typical katsudon before it is poured over a bowl of hot and steamy rice.
Although this dish can now be eaten throughout the year, it used to be an energy staple in place of meat during the summer and autumn seasons.
The Tama Konnyaku i.e. round konnyaku is a very popular food in Yamagata to the extent that it is regarded as the soul food of the prefecture. As such, if you are attending any events within the prefecture, this dish will almost certainly be featured there, too.
Konnyaku is well known as a healthy food with rich fibers which boost digestion, high levels of minerals like calcium, and low calories which is ideal for those wanting to lose weight. The round konnyaku is usually boiled in soy sauce before being served in skewers just like yakitori.
Depending on the area, the sauce used to make this dish can contain other ingredients such as dried shredded squid or pork belly which enhances the taste in different ways. It is recommended that you eat this with karashi (からし) i.e. mustard or shichimi powder.
Last but not least, here’s Sanma no Boubouyaki which originated as a dish eaten by fishermen while they are out at sea. Using sanma i.e. saury, which is in-season during autumn, the fish meat is mixed with shiso leaves, leeks, miso, and grated ginger, before being minced and shaped like a hamburger patty. They are then grilled on a frying pan and served with grated Chinese yam. It is said that even those who don’t like fish will find this dish tasty, and that it can be eaten easily by children and the elderly.
Having read about these six mouth-watering local delicacies, how about trying them during your trip in the Tohoku region this autumn?