Chirimen Jako from a local stand
Looking like tiny crispy fried noodles, this traditional Japanese dish is actually boiled and dried baby sardines. In the Kanto area these little fish may be referred to as “shirasu-boshi”, but on the Kansai end of the country they’re “chirimen jako”. The classic way to enjoy this salty dish is sprinkled on a bed of fresh rice with a few drops of soy sauce. The health benefits of chirimen jako have been lauded for years. They’re a great source of calcium, vitamin D, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is meant to boost your learning ability. You can pick up boxes of the stuff from street vendors.
Kakinoha-zushi from Hyoutaro Sushi
While in the Nara prefecture area if there’s one local cuisine you have to experience, it’s kakinoha-zushi (persimmon leaf sushi). Like an onigiri-sushi hybrid, kakinoha-zushi is a rice ball topped with salted mackerel wrapped in a persimmon leaf. Once carefully rolled, the sushi is left to ferment for a few days. If you’re brave enough to try this take on unrefrigerated sushi, or you’re after some more interesting omiyage, Hyoutaro Sushi a store located in the heart of Yoshino is the best place to pick it up.
Hanami Dango fresh off the grill
In March and April once the weather starts to get warmer, two things are guaranteed to happen: locals and tourists will flock to cherry blossom hubs to witness the fleeting beauty of hanami, and sanshoku dango aka hanami dango will surface. Dango is a traditional rice dumpling sweet that comes in various forms depending on the season and your location. Hanami dango is not only delicious, but also marks the beginning of spring, a very special time on Japan’s calendar. Each colour of the dango dumplings represents a different season: green for the summer grass, white for snowy winter and of course pink for the spring cherry blossoms.
Kuzumochi from a traditional sweets store
If there’s one perfect summer dessert you have to try in Japan, skip the ice cream and get into kuzumochi. More like a jelly than mochi in consistency, kuzumochi is made from water, sugar and ‘kuzu’ starch produced by the Japanese Arrowroot plant. Dusted with kinako, a nutty soybean powder and brown sugar syrup it’s Japanese culinary simplicity at its super sweet best. Thanks to its refreshing lightness, fun texture and non-melting properties, kuzumochi is the perfect warm weather treat.
Sakuramochi from a street vendor
Like the Hanami Dango, Sakura Mochi is a more than just a tasty treat, it’s also a celebration of the cherry blossom arrival. Wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf, Sakura mochi is an anko aka red bean paste filled rice cake usually eaten during hinamatsuri (a girls day celebration) and during hanami parties. Different regions have different variations on this seasonal dessert. In Kanto the sweet is made from a smoother rice flour, while in Yoshino and other Kansai areas the main ingredient is a more gelatinous flour resulting in a sticky, chewier consistency.