There is no better way to get to know a place in Japan - past and present - than through food. Hiroshima is full of heavy history and tends to overshadow everything, but among Japanese residents, Hiroshima is also famous for its food, the city is the birthplace of a favourite dish called Hiroshima. Okonomiyaki (a kind of spicy pancake; more that later), which grew out of the post-World War II period, Hiroshima is also the center of a large prefecture of the same name, defined by a long border with the sea in the coast punctuated with fishing villages containing about two-thirds of Japan's oysters.
I had been to Hiroshima 10 years ago, as a backpacker traveller who ran through the sights, as most tourists made me miss out on delicious food, and also had the opportunity to see the other side of Hiroshima on the other side of Hiroshima when Hiroshima prefecture invited me to try the local food culture, I couldn't say no. This time, I'm going to make it right a bonus: They also give me a choice where I want to go.
Ueno - Anago
The first is Ueno, Miyajima-guchi, which is about 30 minutes from Hiroshima. A century ago, when the train first arrived in Miyajima, Ueno Tanikichi came up with its own idea
He would have eaten poke (herring eel), which is water in Hiroshima Bay, put it on rice and packed into boxed lunches to escort train passengers.
Back then, Anago didn’t think much, but river eel (river eel) was a favorite of its fatty flesh, Leaner Anago came out light and fluffy almost when cooked (you might actually prefer it better because it’s less oily).
In the century Ueno, a shop that replaced the traditional bento shop, was called the “traditional bento shop”.
Anago-meshi (grilled eel), a specialty of Ueno (grilled eel bowl). Many Miyajima restaurants serve summer and weekends, wait for a table in Ueno for an hour.
The restaurant’s old wooden façade, with ivy running through the grilles on the second floor, is part of the charm as a bright spot among the concrete buildings that flow through between Miyajima-guchi train station and ferry terminal, the interior is all wooden, worn smooth with years.
Anakomeshi,” served in a bowl of lacquer, topped with three or four pieces of eel fillets, first grilled tapered eel, then dipped in sweet and salty soy sauce.
Every time the chefs at Ueno make a new batch of sauces, they mix them together with old rice until they become a never-ending pot seasoned with more than 100 years of history.
If you’re tired of plain white rice, you’ll be treated here: Rice is steamed in stock made from eel heads, aromatic it with a taste of deep sea.
Kakiya - Oyster
จากมิยาจิมะ-กุจิ (Miyajima-guchi) นั่งเรือข้ามฟากไปยังมิยาจิมะ 10 นาทีเกาะนี้ขึ้นชื่อเรื่องประตูโทริอิลอยน้ำที่มีอายุหลายศตวรรษ และเมื่อไม่นานมานี้ก็ยังมีหอยนางรมย่าง
หอยนางรมได้รับการเพาะปลูกในอ่าวฮิโรชิม่ามานานกว่า 400 ปี
จากนั้น ยูจิ ฮายาชิ ลูกชายพื้นเมืองก็เริ่มขายให้กับนักท่องเที่ยวตอนนี้ร้านค้ายากิ-กากิเรียงรายไปด้วยแหล่งท่องเที่ยวหลักในมิยาจิมะ
แต่ไม่มีพวกเขาใส่ในการแสดงค่อนข้างเหมือน Hayashi-san ที่หลังจาก 40 ปีหลังย่างตอนนี้มีสถานที่ของเขาเอง: Kaki-ya
เขาย่างหอยนางรมของเขาด้วยความร้อนสูง — ไม่ต้องสนใจเปลวไฟที่เลียมือของเขา และการปะทุของเปลือกหอยและน้ำผลไม้เป็นครั้งคราวที่เขาต้องหลบหลบ
หอยนางรมฮิโรชิม่ามีขนาดเล็ก หวานนิดหน่อย และมีปริมาณของเหลวต่ำ (จึงไม่ค่อยหดตัวเมื่อทำอาหาร) เหมาะอย่างยิ่งสำหรับปิ้งย่าง ตราบใดที่คุณปรุงอาหารอย่างรวดเร็ว
Kaki-ya มีสไตล์แปลกสำหรับเกาะเล็ก ๆ น้อย ๆ ท่องเที่ยวในชนบทของญี่ปุ่นมันมีความทันสมัย, รูปลักษณ์ที่เรียบง่าย: ผนังสีขาวสิ้นเชิง ล้อมรอบด้วยคานไม้สีเข้มและโต๊ะเพื่อให้ตรงกับ, จุดไฟและด้านหน้ากระจก.
นอกจากยาคิ-กากิแล้ว ร้านอาหารยังมีอาหารหอยนางรมอีกหลายชนิด เช่น คาคิเมชิ หอยนางรมบนข้าว
นอกจากนี้ยังมีเมนูไวน์และเหล้าสาเกที่เรียงรายอยู่ใกล้ๆกันด้วยนะเออ…เมื่อผู้จัดการมาที่โต๊ะของเราเพื่อแนะนำเหล้าท้องถิ่น Ugo no Tsuki (ซึ่งแปลว่า “ดวงจันทร์หลังฝน”)
Kitayoshi - Izakaya
Hiroshima is one of Japan’s major sake producing regions and its Saijō district is ranked among the top three (the other two are Nada in Kobe and Fushimi in Kyoto, in case you’re curious).
Sampling some of this prestigious jizake (local sake) was my mission for the evening. Back in downtown Hiroshima we headed for the main eating and drinking district, Nagare-kawa and Hodori.
There’s something for everyone here: bars, clubs, pachinko and karaoke parlours, and, of course, plenty of izakaya (Japanese-style pubs).
My pick for the evening, an izakaya called Kitayoshi, is located inside the covered shopping arcade（Hon-dōri）.
Covered shopping arcades（Shotengai） are emblematic of post-WWII Japan, but Kitayoshi is going for something a little more traditional: The entrance, marked by a giant paper lantern, is reached via a flight of stone steps.
At the top of the stairs is a giant tank of Ugo no Tsuki – which does seem to be the local drink – direct from the brewery .
The namazake (unpasteurized sake) has just the slightest hint of carbonation and a lightly fruity, clean taste - very easy to drink. It’s also an easy match for anything on the menu at Kitayoshi.
There are plenty of rough and tumble places to eat and drink in Hiroshima. Kitayoshi, on the other hand, is a pretty classy place. It has a long wooden counter lit by ceramic lamps shaped like half-moons.
There’s a large vase of sunflowers on one end. At another end, set into the counter, is a display of fish on ice. Kitayoshi gets fresh fish every morning straight from Hiroshima’s fish market.
Today they’ve got sanma (Pacific saury), kinmeidai (splendid alfonsino or golden eye snapper) – I love kinmeidai – and tachiuo (scabbard fish), which the chefs will grill over charcoal. They do a local seafood sashimi platter, too.
We finished off the meal with some classic Japanese comfort food: suji nikomi (stewed tendon) and motsu nikomi (stewed intestines). It’s much better than it sounds (and, no, that’s not just the sake talking).
*Visited in August 2013.
Mitchan Sohonten - Okonomiyaki
The next day, our first destination was Mitchan Sōhonten, Hiroshima’s most famous Okonomiyaki restaurant.
Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake stuffed with cabbage and meat or seafood, but in Hiroshima they have a special way of making it, which is called Hiroshima Okonomiyaki.
Instead of a thick pancake with the fixings mixed in, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki starts with a thin crepe.
To this a huge mound of cabbage is added, followed by meat or seafood, fried noodles, and an egg (plus sauce and seaweed flakes – there’s a lot going on).
Mitchan is credited with inventing Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, the city’s signature dish. The shop started out in the make-or-break post-WWII years as a food stall selling small crepes stuffed with scallions and wrapped in newspaper.
It was a father and son operation and the son, whose nickname was Mitchan, came up with a bunch of ideas to make their product more attractive to customers. Eventually, he alighted on the winning combination that was to become known as Hiroshima Okonomiyaki.
I was drawn to Mitchan’s history but was afraid that it might be too famous, the kind of place that ends up as a tourist trap.
The taxi driver on the way there assured me that locals do in fact eat there, and I was pleased to see a crowd (without cameras or guidebooks) already forming in front of the restaurant a few minutes before it opened.
As it turns out, Mitchan is not content to rest on its laurels; it takes the preparation of Hiroshima Okonomiyaki very seriously.
At ordinary Okonomiyaki restaurants, customers often make the pancakes themselves on hotplates at the table. But Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is far too complicated to be made by amateurs.
The chefs at Mitchan spend years honing their skills.
And they never graduate from chopping cabbage (Mitchan goes through 200kg of cabbage on a busy day); the manager rotates them so they stay in touch with every stage of the process.
What impressed me the most about the Hiroshima Okonomiyaki at Mitchan is that every layer is just right: the cabbage still pert and juicy, the noodles al dente, and the egg firm yet not rubbery.
And still the chefs make it all look casual and fun.
Tsutafuji - Ramen
After lunch, we returned to the coast, this time heading west. Our destination: Onomichi, a seaside town with a high concentration of old temples and a general atmosphere of days long past. It’s often used as a set for movies (most notably Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story). But what really draws visitors is the ramen.
Ambling around the temples we saw a smattering of other tourists here and there. When we passed a ramen shop, we saw a whole line of them.
Onomichi ramen uses a soy sauce seasoned stock that has also been flavored with a variety of small fish pulled from the Inland Sea.
To this a layer of liquid lard is added – which admittedly sounds awful – but makes for a thicker, richer soup. The noodles are thin and round.
The toppings are classic: a handful of scallions, bamboo shoots, and a few pieces of tender pork.
Beyond that, ramen joints here are classified into two categories: the ones that go by Onomichi ramen (the new ones jumping on the bandwagon) and the ones that go by chuka-soba (“Chinese noodles,” the word for ramen throughout much of the 20th century before it became a thing).
The place I wanted to visit, Tsutafuji, falls into the latter category. Like Mitchan, Tsutafuji dates to the post-WWII era; it’s been in business for 60 plus years.
It also originated as a street stall before upgrading to a brick-and-mortar shop. There are still only about a dozen seats, and the kitchen is smaller than the one in my one-bedroom Tokyo apartment.
It’s a scruffy place (and that’s being polite). But from my experience, this is generally the best sort of ramen shop. Others would seem to agree: There are dozens of celebrity signings on the wall.
The chef, who took over from his father, is a man of little words. He wears a towel twisted around his forehead to keep the sweat off his face (an air conditioner and several fans work overtime to counteract the two large boiling pots).
When the sole waitress brought my ramen to the counter, the soup came exactly to the lip of the bowl and not a drop is spilled.
It was hot and burned the roof of my mouth but it was delicious so I kept shoveling it in. (In my defense: Ramen is best eaten piping hot, before the noodles start to go limp)
“What’s your secret?” I asked the chef, between mouthfuls.There isn’t one: “I’m just trying to keep the original taste going. If people like that then I’m happy,” he said.
There’s definitely something attractive about that – about experiencing a particular time and place through food (in this case, a little seaside town circa 1950). From the centuries-old traditions of oysters and sake to the more recent invention of Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima offers plenty of opportunities to do just that.
Veronica Robertson is an American writer based in Tokyo since 2002. She writes about travel in Japan and Japanese culture for newspapers, magazines, and websites. Always in search of new tastes (and onsen), she’s visited nearly every prefecture in Japan.
August 25, 2013
*Visited in August 2013.