Top 5 Local Dishes in Niigata With Long-Loved Traditional Flavors

Facing the Sea of Japan, Niigata Prefecture is a region that is home to many local dishes that are made using seafood and other ingredients. Below are five of the most recommended dishes found in Niigata that will surely satisfy you with the same charms that have been loved through the ages.

1. Hegi Soba

The first dish on this list is Hegi Soba, a kind of buckwheat noodle dish that have been passed down to the Uonuma area in Niigata’s south-central region since ancient times. This dish is served with boiled buckwheat noodles piled up in one-bite portions on top of a rectangular tray called “hegi”. A type of seaweed called “funori” is kneaded into the noodles, giving the noodles great elasticity and a distinct sensation when being swallowed. This area is famous as a center of production for high-quality textiles, and funori was apparently used to tightly stretch wefts of fabric back in the day. This local specialty was born from such history.

2. Aburage from Tochio

The next dish on the list is Aburage, a dish that consists of tofu that has been sliced, drained, and then deep-fried in cooking oil. It has been passed down to the Tochio area in Nagaoka City at the center of Niigata. The dish that is widely known throughout the country is pronounced “Abura-age”, but the dish unique to Tochio has been named “Aburage”. Compared to the thinly sliced Abura-age, the tofu used in Aburage is huge in size at 22cm in length, 7cm in width and 3cm in thickness (almost three times larger)! The main appeal of this dish is its chewiness, plump and soft texture, smooth and light flavor, and fragrant aroma. It is made in around 20 tofu shops in Nagaoka City.

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3. Noppe

Noppe is a homecooked dish that people in Niigata have been eating since long ago. It is a kind of stew that is made with root vegetables, chicken, konjac and other ingredients, with the sauce thickened by taro. The ingredients that are used vary depending on the house where the dish is cooked, with some households apparently even putting salmon, salted salmon roe and other seafood into the dish. It is also served in restaurants and izakaya (Japanese bars). It is a special dish that is prepared for the New Year’s, important ceremonies and other events throughout the year.

4. Sake no Sakabitashi

The next dish on this list is Sake no Sakabitashi, a local dish that has been traditionally eaten in Murakami City, which is north of Niigata. In this dish, male Akisake (salmon caught in fall) is rubbed with salt and set aside for about a week. After that, the salt is removed and the fish is exposed to the cold winter wind, and then further dried in the shade for half a year until early summer. By carefully and slowly drying the fish, aging and fermentation progress properly, bringing out a flavor and distinct aroma that isn’t found in raw salmon. Once done, the dried fish is cut into thin slices, and then soaked in Japanese sake and mirin (sweet cooking wine) before eating. It is perfect as a snack when drinking sake.

5. Wappani

The last dish on the list is a dish that fishermen have passed down to Awashima, an island that is floating in the Sea of Japan north of Niigata. It uses freshly caught mebaru (rockfish), kawahagi (filefish), aburako (greenling) and other seasonal fish that have been cut into chunks and grilled, along with spring onions. The ingredients are placed in a container called “wappa” (made by bending Japanese cedar), hot water is poured into the container, and then red-hot stones are dropped into the mix! Once the soup boils, miso is added. It is such a hearty seafood dish! Take a bite and the salty scent of the sea will fill your mouth. You will feel the bounties of the sea to the fullest!

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Niigata is a place that offers easy access to many major cities in Japan, as it is just about 1 hour and 40 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train), and roughly an hour from Osaka by plane. You should check it out!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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