Akita in the northwest of Tohoku is one of Japan’s major rice growing prefectures, so it’s no surprise that one of its most famous dishes is made with rice.
Kiritanpo consists of freshly-cooked and pounded, new-season rice that is moulded on to sticks and grilled. According to the Japan National Tourism Organisation the dish originated as a portable food that hunters and wood cutters could carry with them into the mountains to eat while they were working. From mid-September to March, you commonly find kiritanpo in a nabe (hotpot) made with chicken, burdock, Japanese leeks and maitake mushrooms. Outside of the autumn/winter season you can still enjoy a filling snack of kiritanpo glazed with sweet miso and sesame.
CAPTION: Grilled miso kiritanpo made with Akita’s most famous rice – Akitakomachi
Another must try in the Akita area is inaniwa udon. Many parts of Japan have their variation of the chewy, wheat noodle, but Akita’s udon is a little thinner than the average. The dough is kneaded for a long time, then hand stretched to create its slightly flattened shape.
On cold days it’s typically served hot in broth with toppings such as kamaboko fish paste, nameko mushrooms, or grated yam. On hot days order the noodles cold with dipping sauces such as the ground and toasted sesame or a soya sauce-based dips.
At Sakura No Sato (桜の里) in Kakunodate where the pictures here come from, the soya sauce dip is served with a side of nameko mushrooms, wasabi and sliced Japanese leeks. Mix these into the sauce for added flavour. The sesame sauce is accompanied by grated ginger, mountain vegetables and more Japanese leeks. The noodles are made in-house, and if you happened to come earlier in the day, you can see the noodle-makers at work.
CAPTION: Sakura no Sato restaurant, Kakunodate
Sakura no Sato (9 Higashikatsuraku-cho, Kakunodate-machi, Senboku-shi, Akita) is around a 15 minute walk from JR Kakunodate Station in the heart of the samurai district, which makes it the perfect stop off for local specialities during a day of sightseeing.
CAPTION: Views of Kakunodate samurai district
On the Akita Shinkansen it takes around 45 minutes to get from Akita or Morioka to Kakunodate Station, or 90 minutes on the cheaper local train lines.
By Celia Plender