Flavours of Nara: Discover the Region's Unique Cuisine
Author Naoya Shiga once said of Nara’s food, “Nara ni umai mono nashi”; “There is no delicious food in Nara”. Spending time here will destroy that myth. The pure air and water, wide plains and thickly forested mountains create the perfect environment for growing the very freshest produce.
A traditional start to the day is a bowl of Chagayu, a rice porridge cooked with roasted green tea, which lends it a subtle, nutty flavour. It started as a simple dish for monks at Todaiji in 1200 AD, and is still served for breakfast in many hotels and ryokans.
Along with Buddhism, the first emissaries to China brought back noodles. Somen noodles, especially Miwa Somen from the area around Mt. Miwa, are popular all over Nara. They are eaten cold in summer and in winter they are served in a light dashi-based broth with mountain vegetables, called Nyuumen.
Kuzukiri & Kuzumochi
The natural spring water in Yoshino makes it perfect for kuzu dishes. Kuzu, or kudzu in English, is a natural starch used for thickening sauces and sweets. When mixed with warm water, it forms a clear, slightly shimmering jelly, cut into noodles called kuzukiri, or scooped into small dumplings called kuzumochi.
Gojo is famous for persimmons and in autumn the streets are garlanded with strings of fruit hanging to dry. The locals keep finding new uses for the sweet, slightly astringent fruit, rich in vitamins and fibre. You can try persimmon wine, persimmon leaf tea, jelly, dried fruits and even smoothies.
One of the first Nara specialties you will probably encounter is Kakinohazushi: lightly pickled mackerel or salmon, wrapped in a persimmon leaf, which developed in the Edo era around the Yoshino River near Gojo. The tannin in persimmon leaves is said to kill bacteria and help preserve the fish.