The Japan Alps and the North Chubu Coast Feature
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On the Menu
Every microregion in Japan's alpine region has its specialties and unique style of preparing seafood from the Sea of Japan. Vitamin-rich seaweed such as wakame or kombu is a common ingredient, sometimes served in miso soup with tiny shijimi clams.
In Toyama spring brings tiny purple-hue baby firefly squid (hotaru-ika) to the menu, which are boiled in soy sauce or sake and eaten whole with a tart mustard-miso sauce. Try the seasonal ama-ebi (sweet shrimp) and masu-zushi (thinly sliced trout sushi that's been pressed flat). In winter, crabs abound, including the red, long-legged beni-zuwaigani.
Speaking of crabs, Fukui has huge (some 28 inches leg to leg) echizen-gani crabs. When boiled with a little salt and dipped in rice vinegar, they're pure heaven. In both Fukui and Ishikawa, restaurants serve echizen-soba (homemade buckwheat noodles with mountain vegetables) with sesame oil and bean paste for dipping.
The seafood-based Kaga-ryori (Kaga cuisine) is common to Kanazawa and Noto-hanto. Tai (sea bream) is topped with mountain fern brackens, greens, and mushrooms. At Wajima's early-morning fish market near the tip of Noto-hanto and at Kanazawa's omi-cho market you have your choice of everything from abalone to seaweed, and nearby restaurants will cook it for you.
In Niigata Prefecture try noppei-jiru, a hot (or cold) soup with sato-imo (a type of sweet potato) as its base, and mushrooms, salmon, and a few other local ingredients. It goes well with hot rice and grilled fish. Wappa-meshi is steamed rice garnished with local ingredients, especially wild vegetables, chicken, fish, and shellfish. In autumn try kiku-no-ohitashi, a side dish of chrysanthemum petals marinated in vinegar. Like other prefectures on the Nihon-kai coast, Niigata has outstanding fish in winter—buri (yellowtail), flatfish, sole, oysters, abalone, and shrimp. A local specialty is namban ebi, raw shrimp dipped in soy sauce and wasabi. It's butter-tender and especially sweet on Sado-ga-shima. Also on Sado-ga-shima, take advantage of the excellent wakame dishes and sazae-no-tsuboyaki (wreath shellfish) broiled in their shells with a soy or miso sauce.
The area around Matsumoto is known for its wasabi and chilled zarusoba (buckwheat noodles), a refreshing meal on a hot day, especially with a cold glass of locally brewed sake. Eel steamed inside rice wrapped in bamboo leaves is also popular.
Sansai soba (buckwheat noodles with mountain vegetables) and sansai-ryori (wild vegetables and mushrooms in soups or tempura) are specialties in the mountainous areas of Takayama and Nagano. Local river fish like ayu (smelt) or iwana (char) are grilled on a spit with shoyu (soy sauce) or salt. Hoba miso is a dark, slightly sweet type of miso roasted on a large magnolia leaf.
Nagano is also famous for ba-sashi (raw horse meat), sakura nabe (horse-meat stew cooked in an earthenware pot), and boiled baby bees. The former two are still very popular; as for the latter, even locals admit they're something of an acquired taste.
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