Saturday, January 25, 2014

Nagoya Meshi - A Culinary treat

When our friends in Iwaki first heard that we would be moving to Nagoya, the first reaction would be : "Atsui ne ! " which in Japanese means  "Its hot !". This was a reference to the Hot and Humid summers in Nagoya . But the next minute they would start raving about the delicious food that I would get to eat in Nagoya

Nagoya is well known for its unique cuisine known as "Nagoya Meshi". Food is an important part of Japanese culture and many cities and regions are famous for their local cuisine which is most often not available in other places. Kyoto and Osaka are also famous for their local cuisines and locals most often visit popular places just to eat the local cuisine. Nagoya too is one of those places, a foodie's delight ! 

The uniquity of Nagoya Meshi is the perfect blend of subtle sweetness, spice and salt. Located in the fertile Nobi plains and proximity to the ocean have contributed to the development of this unique cuisine. Some ingredients used in Nagoya meshi are local specialities. For instance, Nagoya Cochin is a special breed of chicken unique to the region and it is a cross breed between Nagoya chicken and cochin chicken.The meat is reputed to be juicier and tender and has a stronger scent. Due to its juicier quality and taste, this chicken is said to be used to make chicken sashimi ! The other special ingredient is the miso, a staple ingredient for most Japanese dishes. The Nagoya miso is darker, richer and sweeter and has a distinct flavour. 

Sakae in downtown Nagoya is a popular destination for experiencing the local cuisine and also for shopping. It is comparable to Tokyo's Ginza.

Some of the Nagoya specialities : 

1. TEBASAKI : This is chicken wings marinated in a sweet sauce and dipped in sesame seeds and then  deep fried (without a batter coating) and most often topped with pepper powder. Basically it is a type of yakitori and can be eaten at yakitori shops or izakayas, with some joints even claiming to have their own specialization.  Tebasaki is a personal favourite.

2. MISOKATSU : Tonkatsu is a popular Japanese dish, which is essentially deep fried pork cutlets served with a thick soybean sauce and a serving of rice and shredded cabbage. Miso katsu is a Nagoya speciality where the traditional sauce is substituted with a thicker and sweeter Miso sauce. 

3. MISO NIKOMI UDON : The miso sauce used in Nagoya cuisine is made using red miso and the taste is sweeter and richer along with a darker colour. Another popular dish in which the red miso is used is Miso Nikomi Udon wherein hard udon noodles are stewed in miso broth with vegetables and meat and egg. The red miso paste is also used to make Miso Oden and Dote Nabe both of which are winter hotpot specialities. 

4. KISHIMEN : Kishimen are broad and flat wheat noodles similar to udon. They are served with soup or accompanied by a dipping sauce. Kishimen can be eaten cold or hot. (See picture above).

5. TENMUSU : Tenmusu is the Nagoya variant of the humble riceball known in Japanese as Onigiri or Omusubi.For Tenmusu, rice ball is wrapped in crispy "Nori", (sea weed) with a tempura as the stuffing. Ebi tenmusu or Tenmusu prepared with Shrimp Tempura is the most popular tenmusu in town. (See picture above)

6. HITSUMABUSHI : Undoubtedly, this is the most favorite Nagoya dish among the Japanese. Nagoya is the country's largest producer of fresh water eel, locally known as Unagi. The eel is grilled, coated with a rich dark sauce and served with rice. Apart from the difference in taste, the style of serving this unagi dish is also different in Nagoya. It is served as a meal set where the grilled and flavoured eel is served in a traditional wooden bowl, while the rice is served in a separate rice bowl, known as the donburi. A plate with pickled vegetables and light broth is also served alongwith the unagi and rice.
 It is also supposed to be eaten in a particular manner - the first portion of the unagi is scooped into the rice bowl and eaten, the second portion is eaten along with pickles and rice, the third portion is eaten combined with rice, pickles and also the broth. Finally portion is eaten as per individual preference. The locals are so particular about this eating pattern that a popular Hitsumabushi restaurant even has a multilingual instruction sheet with pictures to guide the uninitiated about how to eat their Hitsumabushi !

So popular is the Nagoya meshi that many Japanese who visit Nagoya even carry back home these specialities as souvenirs for their family and friends. My friends who visited us in Nagoya after we moved here carried home Hitsumabushi and Miso paste to share with their family. 

So if you are visiting Nagoya, Bon Appetit ! 

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