At the mention of Gifu Prefecture, the first thing that probably comes to mind would be the thatched-roof village of Shirakawago. Shirakawago no Gassho-Zukuri (白川郷の合掌造り集落) is a World Heritage Site along with Gokayama no Gassho-Zukuri which is located in the neighboring Toyama Prefecture. Being a landlocked prefecture, Gifu may not be well known for seafood-related delicacies, but it does boast a thriving agriculture and forestry, making it a fantastic place to taste the best food from the mountains and land. If you are heading there for a trip, how about seeking these local specialties to savor the best of Gifu’s flavors?
You might wonder what this dish is when you hear its name “Kei-chan” for the first time. It is not a name of a person but rather, “Kei” is the reading of the Kanji character for chicken (鶏). As the name suggests, this traditional dish, which is also a household staple, contains chicken meat marinated with miso before being stir-fried with various vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, onions, and bean sprouts.
Depending on the region and the restaurant where you eat this dish, the type of miso used will differ and there are some places that use soy sauce instead of miso. This is a dish especially popular and famous in the Masuda Region (益田地域), the Hida Region (飛騨地域) which includes Gero City (下呂市) and Takayama City (高山市), and the Gujo Region (郡上地域) which includes Gujo City (郡上市), so you definitely need to try it if you are in the vicinity.
Apparently, the dish is so common and easily available in Gifu that you can find it at bars as a snack to go with your drinks. You can even find prepacked versions at supermarkets which can be easily prepared at home. Imagine the joy and satisfaction you will get by having a plate of Kei-chan to go with a bowl of steamy rice during the colder seasons!
— 木﨑善弘 (@yk028101) June 8, 2016
In Asahi-machi of Takayama City, there is this rice cake named “bijomochi” which literally means “beauty rice cake.” There is actually nothing about this rice cake’s ingredients that will make you more beautiful, but the name is said to have been inspired by an old legend.
Before World War II, there were many North Koreans who were living in this area of Japan and they would eat long rice cakes, which were also known as chousen-mochi (朝鮮餅) at that time. However, the manual and time-consuming process of putting Uruchi rice into the millstone to get rice flour made it impossible for the locals to produce more than itto (一斗) of rice cakes i.e. approximately 18 liters. Although technological advancement made it possible for the grinding of rice and shaping of the rice cakes to be done by machines, production volumes were still largely limited to no more than nito (二斗) daily.
One day in late December, a beautiful woman who was carrying a child on her back came to the village and asked to make the rice cakes with rice measuring nito. However, the locals had to rush orders placed by customers and didn’t want to let the woman try making the rice cakes because they thought that she would take a long time. Nonetheless, the woman suggested a way of making the rice cakes that greatly expedited the production process and left as soon as she finished them. When the villagers rushed out to find her, they couldn’t see her anymore. Later, they guessed that the woman must have been the guardian god from Bijogaike (美女ヶ池) i.e. Beauty Pond and started to use the name “Bijomochi” for this type of rice cake.
Made from locally produced rice, there are a few ways of eating bijomochi. These include grilling it on its own or with seaweed wrapped around it, boiling it in hot pots, frying it in soy sauce, or eating it with ramen or udon.
If you swing by a local supermarket, chances are that you will be able to find vacuum-packed bijomochi which you can bring home. However, do note that it has a relatively short shelf life of just two weeks from the date of production so you will need to pay extra attention to the expiry date.
Goheimochi is another rice-based snack like bijomochi – not surprising considering that Gifu is well known for the delicious rice it produces. However, the shape and taste of these two types of rice snacks are very different. The goheimochi is molded into a long and oval shape with a stick pierced through it. A paste containing miso, soy sauce, walnuts, and sesame (the proportion and mix of ingredients depend) is spread onto the surface of the rice before the sticks are grilled over fire.
The word “gohei” actually comes from the ceremonial food that is offered to the mountain gods to pray for the safety of those who work in the mountains. In the past, mountain workers would bring the goheimochi with them instead of bento since it was easier to dip the rice sticks into miso and eat them with alcohol. Besides being used as a ceremonial offering, the snack is also offered to the gods to thank them for the autumn harvest. It is also usually offered to guests or when family members return to their hometowns.
This snack is especially common in souvenir shops, restaurants, and traditional ryokans in Mino City (美濃市) and its surrounding areas. These days, you may also see this snack outside of Gifu at places like the Kiso (木曽) and Ina (伊那) Districts of Nagano Prefecture and in Okumikawa (奥三河) in Aichi Prefecture.
At first glance, the renkon katsudon looks no different from the usual katsudon made from pork cutlets. However, upon taking a closer look, you will find that this cutlet is made from pork wrapped around slices of lotus root which adds a unique and crunchy texture. It is probably not surprising that Hashima City (羽島市), the number one producer of lotus roots in the prefecture, is home to this dish as its hard soil is ideal for growing the best lotus roots.
Back in 1994, there was a contest asking for dish ideas that use local produce. The owner of one Japanese restaurant in Hashima named Chikusen rose to the challenge and decided to use lotus roots which is available almost throughout the year, from September to May the following year. After repeated experiments, the dish won an award but it was quickly forgotten due to the lotus root being such a common ingredient in the locality. It was only in 1996 when Chikusen included the renkon katsudon on its menu as part of its 20th-anniversary celebration that the dish became well known and popular again.
After reading about these delicacies, are you feeling hungry and eager to get your hands on them? Do remember to check them out if you are traveling in Gifu and satisfy your palate while taking in the beautiful sights there!