24 Jul 2019 in Food Culture
Treat your palate with a trip to one of Japan’s culinary sweet spots.
If you’re a fan of Japanese cuisine, the central Honshu city of Kanazawa is one to put on your wish-list. Set between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps, it is blessed with ideal conditions for growing quality rice and a whole range of unique vegetables.
And thanks to its coastal location between the cool northern and warm southern currents, its fish and seafood are famed throughout Japan. Combine these natural resources with a tradition of culinary knowhow, and you’ll understand why Kanazawa is a foodie favourite.
You can easily spend a few days in the area, exploring not just the culinary scene, but also Kanazawa’s rich culture and history.
Known as “Little Kyoto”, the city boasts wonderfully-preserved geisha and samurai districts, as well as one of Japan’s most celebrated gardens.
Just 3 hours by train from Tokyo, Kanazawa has a varied food scene, commonly known as “Kaga cuisine”. In the feudal period, the ruling Maeda family brought advanced cooking techniques to the region, and the culinary tradition lives on today.
Specialities include jibuni, tender duck coated in flour or potato starch and simmered in a soy-based broth, gori-kara-age, crispy deep-fried fish that come bite-sized, and hasu-mushi, lotus root delicately steamed with vegetables, shrimps and seasonal fish. But there is much more to Kaga cuisine.
One of the great pleasures of a trip to Kanazawa is treating yourself to some of Japan’s freshest and most flavorsome seafood.
Crab season runs from November to March, with the snow crab (zuwaigani) prized as winter’s choice treat. At Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga, you can sample a particularly creative zuwaigani dish known as shimenawa-mushi, snow crab steamed in a saltwater-soaked rope to make it plumper, juicier and more concentrated in umami.
You’ll also find crab served throughout the multi-course kaiseki menu: charcoal-grilled, fried, as raw sashimi or in a shabu-shabu hotpot with rice porridge.
Each season brings a new seafood delight. In summer, Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga serves abalone sashimi floating in ice water with a special liver-based or hard tofu sauce.
In autumn, you can look forward to the much-prized blackthroat seaperch served as a delicate sashimi, or rosy seabass, a fatty white fish accompanied by seasonal vegetables.
All year round, the restaurant uses special crockery, carefully picked out to accentuate the presentation of the food.
This meticulous marriage of plate and dish is a tradition of Kaga cuisine, inspired by the philosophy of legendary Japanese artist and epicurean Kitaooji Rosanjin, who famously said that “the plate is the kimono of a dish”.
Thanks to high-quality water from the Hakusan Mountains, the plain of Kaga provides a fertile ground for growing excellent rice (which, in turn, produces top-class sake) and so-called Kaga vegetables.
Some 15 vegetables are recognised by Kanazawa City Agricultural Association as native Kaga vegetables, each with their own distinct form and colour.
The small heta murasaki eggplant, is delicious in noodle dishes thanks to its thin skin and soft flesh. The satsumaimo sweet potato is baked to heighten its soft, flaky texture, while the kinjiso is a leafy green-and-purple vegetable with a deep flavour when served as tempura.
For a unique vegetable experience, head to nearby Kaga City to test the Kaga Parfait: a five-layered dessert made by combining Kaga vegetables with sponge cake and jelly.
Even if you’re not a foodie, make sure you visit the bustling Omicho market, dubbed the “Kitchen of Kanazawa”. Held every day, it’s a hive of activity, with locals shopping around for the freshest fish, stall-holders pushing carts through the maze of alleys, and businessmen queuing up to eat in the numerous restaurants.
Many stalls prepare and serve seafood dishes in front of you. At Shimada Suisan, you can sample anything from fresh crab to juicy oysters and plump Kuro shrimp. Or head to Shunsai Yaki, where abalone steak is grilled in front of you, served with homemade sauce and butter.
Other highlights include Tofu Shop Futaroku, where you can see tofu being made from the shop’s own homemade soy milk. And, before you leave, take the time to sample at least one of the more than 50 local sakes on sale. Kanazawa is reputed for producing some of Japan’s very best!