It's Lunch Time

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Winter in Japan
It's Lunch Time


Japan Hour:

It's Lunch Time

This week, our “meal investigation” takes us to places with beautiful autumn leaves. The first destination is Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture, which is famous for the Nebuta Festival. One of the most scenic spots to view autumn leaves here is Mt. Hakkoda. In terms of food, a well-known speciality of Aomori is miso curry milk ramen. This dish came about after local students started adding milk and curry in their miso ramen.

We start by checking out Hotate Goya, situated in front of Aomori Station. This shop has live scallops in water tanks. For 500 yen, customers can fish for as many scallops as they want within two minutes. After they are caught, the scallops can be grilled and eaten on the spot.

Next, we go to the Aomori Fish and Vegetable Centre, a market with over 30 shops. What is unique about this place is that customers can create their own Nokkedon, a donburi with toppings of their choice. They have to buy vouchers which can be used as “money tickets” to purchase items for their donburi at any of the shops at the market. The number of tickets needed varies, depending on the ingredients; some items require one ticket, while others require more. 

We decide to purchase a 10-ticket voucher for 1,300 yen. The things we choose for our donburi include rice, scallops, whiskered velvet shrimp, salmon roe, mekabu seaweed, squilla and tuna. One can also exchange the tickets for meat, so we get some grilled Maezawa beef too.

After enjoying our custom-made donburi, we head to the Auga Fresh Market. Near Aomori Station, it opens from 5am onwards and has shops selling fish-related items and dried foods. We meet Mrs Naomi Hirano, who runs a store called Hirano Shoten with her husband Shigemi and her son Seiya. They agree to show us their lunch. Seiya’s lunch, for example, includes chicken, grilled salmon, tempura, soy sauce-marinated salmon roe, miso soup and frigate skipjack tuna. Naomi’s lunchbox is simpler, with items such as mixed vegetable tempura, flounder grilled with salt, cabbage salad and pink grapefruit.

Our next food adventure takes place in Minowa-machi, a town in Nagano Prefecture. Lake Momiji is a popular scenic spot here, boasting more than 10,000 trees with autumn leaves. The best time to view the autumn scenery is from the end of October to the beginning of November. Besides autumn leaves, the area is also known for another seasonal item, red buckwheat flowers. We visit the “Red Buckwheat Village” where the flowers grow. The flowers were first brought to Japan from the Himalayas 30 years ago.

We visit a soba shop, Furuta's Village, which is only open during the autumn leaves season. It sells red buckwheat noodles, which are made by Mr Ichio Shiba. We try our hand at cutting the noodles and get to taste them after they are cooked too. We are later introduced to the president of the Red Buckwheat Club, Mr Karasawa. He agrees to show us his lunch so we head to his beautiful home. He meet his wife, daughter and granddaughter. Mrs Karasawa prepares a feast of 10 dishes for the family. They include rice cooked with chestnuts and matsutake mushrooms; salted and sweetened gypsy mushrooms; vegetable stew; and octopus, cucumber and wakame seaweed pickled in sweetened vinegar. 

After this, we resume our “meal investigation” and meet Mr Yosuke Kobayashi, an apple farmer. His family has been growing apples since 1879. One such variety is called Kogyoku; it can be slightly sour and is widely used in Western sweets and desserts. We later walk with Mr Kobayashi to his home after he finishes his work. It is a five-minute walk from the apple farm. We are introduced to his wife and mother.

Besides apples, the Kobayashis also grow things such as radish, Japanese ginger and green pepper in a field behind their house. For dinner, dishes prepared include rice with scallops; stir-fried bitter gourd; string beans with sesame seed sauce; boiled pumpkin; cucumber, gourd and Japanese ginger pickled with sake lees; and soup with egg, Japanese ginger and paprika.



1)     Scallops are a must-try item when visiting Aomori

2)     Order red buckwheat noodles when visiting Minowa-machi in autumn

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