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A Treasure Trove for Foodies! Five Select Gourmet Foods in Yamagata, Tohoku

Yamagata is famous for its rice, as well as for its fruits such as cherries and La France pears, but there is so much more good food there. Here are five select Yamagata foods ranging from regional specialties to newly developed items.

1. Imoni

Imoni is considered to be a Yamagata specialty. It is said to have started when boatmen conducting trade on Mogami River simmered taro and dried codfish in a sweet and savory sauce in the Kyoto style. Although it is now typical to put beef in, other ingredients, such as negi scallions, mushrooms and konnyaku, differ by region. Imoni-kai, where people gather on riverbanks to enjoy imoni, are important annual events for the citizens of Yamagata. Japan's Number One Imoni-kai Festival, which is held in the city of Yamagata every fall, attracts people from around the country for the imoni that is made in pots that are 6m in diameter.

2. Hiyashi Ramen

Hiyashi (cold) ramen, which has become available in Tokyo in recent years, actually originates in Yamagata. Sakaeya Honten, a soba shop in Yamagata, first developed it in 1951 in response to a customer's comment that "there's cold soba, so why can't there be cold ramen?" and it spread across the prefecture. Today, you can enjoy hiyashi ramen with unique characteristics in each shop, with a variety of soups, such as soy sauce, seafood dashi, salt, and pork bone. Sakaeya Honten is still in operation today, so anyone who wants to try the original flavors should visit.

Sakaeya Honten

2-3-21 Hon-cho, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata

3. Tori-chuka

Tori-chuka is a type of noodle dish that is a specialty of Tendo. With tenkasu, nori seaweed and negi scallions floating in the bowl, at first glance it looks like a typical bowl of warm soba noodles. But when you pull out the noodles from the Japanese-style dashi soup, you'll find that they are actually Chinese noodles usually served in ramen! The ramen that was originally served to workers at soba shops became popular and established itself as a regional specialty. It is popular for the Japanese flavors of the bonito dashi stock, but the soft chicken that is indispensable to Tori-chuka (tori means chicken) is also popular.

4. Hippari Udon

This is a regional dish of the inland area of Yamagata and is called Hippari Udon (pulled udon) because the udon noodles are pulled ("hippari") directly from the pot that it is boiled in. The base of the dipping sauce is natto (fermented soybeans) with soy sauce, to which ingredients such as boiled mackerel and raw eggs are added. The dish originates in this region because it was a center of the charcoal grilling industry, where workers needed to stay by the pot to adjust the temperature, so this was a convenient way of cooking. It is said that some people put bonito flakes and grated daikon radish in the sauce, and others even put butter or curry in it, so if you have the chance, why not search for your favorite flavors?

5. Tama Konnyaku

These are spherical konnyaku (konjac yam) dumplings affectionately referred to as Tamakon. Usually, konnyaku cooked in soy sauce with dried squid is eaten with spicy mustard. It is often on skewers and sold as a convenient snack at popular tourist spots and roadside stations across the prefecture, as well as at festivals. In some areas, it is cooked together with pork belly. Yamagata is the country's largest consumer of konnyaku, even though it does not produce konjac yams. It is said that Jikaku Daishi, who established the mountain temple, Risshakuji, brought konnyaku back and popularized it, so it is a historic food for the people of Yamagata.

There is much more tasty food in Yamagata. When you are traveling there, be sure to look for your favorite item.

*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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