Tohoku’s cold winter means lots of pickles and hot pots. In mountain regions you will certainly come across sansai-ryōri, literally dishes prepared from herbs and plants harvested from the forests and hillsides. Rice from Tohoku is considered some of the most delicious in Japan, so do keep an eye out for Akita komachi and Miyagi’s sasanishiki.
Kamaboko (steamed fish paste) is made by grinding up the white meat of fish, kneading it with salt, mirin (sweet cooking rice wine), sugar and starch and then steaming or roasting. Sasakamaboko, however, is named after its bamboo (sasa) leaf shape, and the marks left from toasting. A specialty of Miyagi, it is a popular gift or souvenir. The most famous sasakamaboko is from Sendai, where rows of shops have prepared their home-made style for years. It is also produced in Shiogama, Ishinomaki, Kesennuma, Watari and Onagawa. Some say that it originates from minced fish made into paste by hand and grilled in order to preserve the seasonal catch of flounder.
Wanko-soba (buckwheat noodles) is the local cuisine of Iwate and is eaten in a very unique and entertaining manner. As soon as you finish the first bowlful, a server flings a fresh ball of noodles into the empty bowl with a wild cry and keeps on filling it until you have had enough! Only about a mouthful of noodles is served each time, so if you are an adult male you should be able to eat about 50-60 bowls. Some say that this tradition stems from when landowners hospitably served their guests until they were full. It is now known throughout Japan as a specialty of Morioka and Hanamaki. The trick to eating a lot is to slurp it down without chewing. National championships are held every year in Morioka and Hanamaki, so if you are confident of your appetite, why not take up the challenge?
A popular traditional cuisine of Akita is kiritanpo, usually eaten during mid-September to March, but particularly in November when gluten cakes from newly harvested rice arrive on the market. Kiritanpo is cooked rice that is kneaded and then toasted on a skewer. It is then cut into 5-cm lengths and cooked in a pan with burdock, Chinese leeks, maitake mushrooms and other seasonal vegetables as well as Japanese parsley and chicken. You must experience this unique taste from Akita. Originally designed as a portable meal carried by woodcutters and hunters working in the mountains, its name comes from its shape, which resembles a tanpo-yari (leather spearhead sheath enclosing a cloth ball filled with cotton).