15 Local Dishes From the Setouchi Area - Cheap Eats to Classy Cuisine!
Along with incredible views, the seaside Setouchi area boasts an abundance of unique local dishes owing to the rich bounties of the surrounding sea. This includes dishes featuring luxury ingredients like sea bream and "fugu" pufferfish, along with those made from the region’s celebrated wheat and buckwheat flour. Next time you take a trip to Japan, use this guide to plan your itinerary based not only on tourist attractions, but also on the local food!
Aug 31 2021
The Characteristics of Setouchi Cuisine - Based Around One of Japan's Most Famous Fishing Grounds
The abundance of high-quality, fresh seafood is the key to Setouchi cuisine. The Seto Inland Sea is characterized by a mild climate with little rainfall alongside strong tides and powerful currents. It is because of these strong currents that the Seto Inland Sea is one of Japan's foremost fishing grounds. Certain catches, such as octopus, sea bream, and pufferfish, have become brand-name ingredients often affiliated with certain areas within Setouchi. This article takes a look at some of the most renowned of these seafood dishes, along with other famous regional foods of the seven prefectures of Setouchi (Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa, and Ehime).
Hyogo Prefecture - World Famous Premium Wagyu Beef!
Kobe Wagyu Beef Steak
Kobe beef, a high-end wagyu beef loved throughout the world, is known for the savory umami flavors of the red meat along with the sweetness found in the marbling. Kobe beef is sourced from pure-bred, carefully selected Tajima cattle raised only at authorized farms. There are many restaurants in the city of Kobe serving melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef steaks, so you won’t have any trouble finding it!
The city of Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture is famous for the tasty octopus caught off its shores, which is used to make the beloved dish "Akashiyaki." These ball-shaped dumplings are made primarily of flour, egg, and octopus served with a warm “dashi” dipping soup flavored from skipjack tuna and kombu (kelp). The dumpling is squishy and soft in the middle and thoroughly soaks up the delicious umami flavors of the soup. Akashi City boasts numerous establishments specializing in the dish.
Another well-priced Hyogo specialty is sobameshi, which is most popular in Kobe City’s Nagata Ward. Thin yakisoba noodles are minced and fried together with rice and flavored with a type of sauce made of vegetables, fruit, sugar, vinegar, salt, and other seasonings. It is also often fried together with beef tendon. The enticing aroma created when the sauce is fried immediately whets the appetite, making it a difficult dish to resist!
Okayama Prefecture - A Fish-Lover’s Paradise!
Tsuyama Horumon Udon
Tsuyama hormone udon is a beloved local dish in Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture, consisting of udon noodles and meat cooked teppanyaki-style. Served at more than 50 restaurants across the city, Okayama Prefecture’s thriving livestock industry and Tsuyama’s meat processing center ensures a good supply of fresh, odorless offal (called "horumon" in Japan). The noodles are cooked in a rich sauce that pairs perfectly with the juicy offal and chewy noodles.
Mamakari is a kind of fish that's in season between early summer and late fall and is often served pickled in vinegar. The name derives from the saying that "the fish is so good, you'll run out of white rice (mama) to serve with it and will have to borrow (kari) some from next door!" Mamakari-zushi, a sushi made with mamakari, has a refreshing flavor and is traditionally made for celebrations and festivals in southern Okayama Prefecture.
Hiroshima Prefecture - Tasty, Reasonably Priced Food Galore
Hiroshima-yaki is made by layering a flour-based batter, cabbage, pork, egg, and noodles on a griddle without mixing them up. The sweetness of the cabbage, the light texture of the noodles and batter, and the aromatic sauce combine to make it a dish beloved by all. There are many restaurants specializing in Hiroshima-yaki, especially in Hiroshima City, with lines running out the door at the popular ones.
Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture is a city facing the Seto Inland Sea that's famous for its hilly, historic landscape. It is also known for Onomichi ramen, which is served in a clear, soy sauce-flavored broth made from chicken bones and small fish with a splashing of rich pork fat. Many restaurants top their Onomichi ramen with piles of chopped spring onion while others add small deep-fried shrimp or spicy flavoring, making it fun to discover what unique rendition each restaurant serves.
Yamaguchi Prefecture - Fun, Instagrammable Dishes
Kawara soba was created in an onsen (hot spring) town called Kawatana in Shimonoseki City in 1962 as the result of a project to develop a local specialty dish. A kawara (Japanese roof tile) is warmed directly over fire until it reaches a temperature of 300℃, on which chasoba (soba noodles with Japanese green tea mixed in) are placed and topped with thinly sliced Japanese omelette, beef, spring onion, nori (seaweed), lemon, and finally, momiji-oroshi (grated daikon radish with red pepper powder mixed in). Guests served this dish are thrilled by the delightfully colorful appearance and delicate aroma of the chasoba grilling on the kawara.
Suo-Oshima Mikan Nabe
The island of Suo-Oshima produces approximately 80% of all the mikan (mandarin orange) produced in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Suo-Oshima Mikan Nabe is a regional dish made with the fresh seafood available on the island and the “unshu mikan” mandarin. This seafood hot pot dish features fish balls blended with mikan skin, a condiment made with green chilli peppers and mikan skin, and entire mikan grilled and thrown in whole. It makes for a wonderful way to fully relish the savory flavors of seafood together with those of the mikan.
Tokushima Prefecture - The Simple Flavors of Home
Iya soba is a thick soba noodle dish made using flour from a native species of buckwheat in the Iya region of Miyoshi City, deep in the mountains of Tokushima. Iya soba noodles boast a higher percentage of buckwheat flour than typical soba noodles, amplifying the pleasing aroma of the buckwheat. As hardly any binding agent is used, they often fall apart easily. Because of this, while enjoyed at most celebrations in the Iya region, Iya soba is not served at weddings as it is seen to represent relationships falling apart.
Dekomawashi is a specialty of the Iya region of Miyoshi consisting of a dumpling made with potato and buckwheat flour, a piece of round konnyaku (a jelly-like product made from konjac), and a hard tofu unique to Iya all grilled on a skewer with miso paste. Its name comes from the way it is rotated to stop it from burning when grilled and to cool it down when eating, an action which reminded people of a wooden "deko" doll rolling (“mawashi” in Japanese) its head around. It is a simple, hearty dish befitting of Iya, a secluded area that retains an untouched landscape that reminds one of old Japan.
Kagawa Prefecture - Home to Shikoku's Famous Sanuki Udon
Udon, a thick noodle made with flour, is a common food found all across Japan. However, Kagawa Prefecture’s Sanuki udon is a particularly renowned type of udon that is popular not only in its homeland, but all around the country. The key to its popularity is its chewy texture, which can be enjoyed simply boiled and served with a hearty fish broth. Kagawa Prefecture has the highest consumption of flour for udon noodles in Japan and is filled with numerous udon shops. It is common to see students and businessmen enjoying Sanuki udon for breakfast on the way to school or work.
In Japan, it is common to eat a kind of soup with plain mochi and vegetables called "zoni" to celebrate the New Year. Kagawa Prefecture has an unusual zoni featuring mochi filled with “an” (sweet red bean paste), which is usually only seen in Japanese sweets. The prefecture has a temperate climate with low rainfall, so it was encouraged to grow sugar cane during the Edo Period (1603-1867). As sugar was valuable, it became a tradition to put mochi sweetened with “an” in the zoni served at the New Year. The miso used here is a sweet white miso fermented with less salt, making the soup itself slightly sweet as well. Some cafes serving Japanese sweets in Kagawa will offer an-mochi zoni all year round!
Ehime Prefecture - Savor the Flavors of the Seto Inland Sea
There are two types of tai-meshi (sea bream rice) in Ehime Prefecture. In the central Ehime (cities of Matsuyama and Imabari), an entire fresh sea bream is cooked together with rice and flavored with salt, soy sauce, kombu, and other seasonings. It is then mixed and mashed with rice, infusing the rice with the umami of the fish. There are many restaurants in Matsuyama and Imabari serving this style of tai-meshi.
The other version of tai-meshi is beloved by the fishermen of Uwajima, a city south of Matsuyama. Fresh sea bream from the sea near Uwajima is prepared as sashimi and marinated in a “tare” sauce made from a mixture of soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), egg, sesame seeds, and dashi stock and served upon warm rice. This type of tai-meshi is available at many restaurants in Uwajima.
Jakoten is a specialty from the cities of Yawatahama and Uwajima, which have access to an abundance of fresh fish caught off their shores. A hodgepodge of fish are mashed whole with the skin and bones left in and mixed with flour, egg, and salt before being deep fried to make this dish. While the seasoning is simple, the concentrated umami flavors of the fish are super enhanced! It can be enjoyed as a side dish, as a topping on udon noodles, or as a snack with sake.
Ranging from beef to seafood, high-class cuisine to thrifty eats, the Setouchi area bursts with an alluring gourmet culture to explore and enjoy. If one of these local dishes piques your interest, be sure to look it up and find out more about the scenery and character of the area as well as add it to your next Japan itinerary!
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.