Niigata—the rice kingdom of Japan

Niigata’s Koshihikari rice is best known for its aroma, chewy texture and sweetness that fills the mouth with each bite. When in town, you must not miss the chance to enjoy a bowl of steaming rice. To enhance the flavour of rice and create a harmony of taste, the locals have developed a variety of side dishes to go with it. Here are our recommendations.

Editor's Pick 1: KaguranaNban miso

¥650/Asahi Shouzi
Kagurananban is a kind of hot chili pepper with an appearance that has been likened to traditional Kagura masks. Originating in the Nagaoka area, the vegetable-based miso paste is a traditional seasoning that goes perfectly with rice.

Editor's Pick 2: Picked blowfish ovary

¥1.944 / Sudakasuke Shoten
After pickling it in salt for two years and rice bran for another year, the detoxified blowfish ovary releases a sweet flavor that has been treasured by people of Sado since the Edo period. Although every household used to have its own recipe, there is only one shop remaining on the island dedicated to passing on this heritage.

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Editor's Pick 3: Salmon bones cooked in soy sauce

¥1,037/Kikkawa
The history of eating salmon in Murakami dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), giving rise to over 100 ways of preparing salmon in the locality. Not only the fish meat, but also the skin, bone and innards are all used as cooking ingredients. Salmon bones skillfully cooked in soy sauce and rice wine mirin is an example of how well the locals make use of nature’s blessings.

Iwappara Matsu-en-don
Hours: 10am-2pm (L.O. 2pm), 5pm-9pm (L.O. 9pm), closed on Thursdays
Access: A 10-minute walk from Iwappara Ski Resort Station on the JR Joetsu Line
Address: 2F Pisute Yuzawa Building, 252-2 Tsuchidaru, Yuzawa Town, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata Prefecture
Website: miwanouen.net/iwappara.html
(Japanese)

Enter the world of Echigo Sake

With as many as 90 sake breweries, Niigata (Echigo province in the past) is no doubt the place to go for a drink. Echigo Sake Museum Ponshukan is a sake lover’s paradise, providing a sampling service for merely ¥500. The Echigo-yuzawa shop even has an inviting sake hot spring that allows you to enjoy sake with all your five senses!

Echigo Sake Museum Ponshukan Niigata Shop
Website: www.ponshukan-niigata.com (Japanese)

Echigo Sake Museum Ponshukan Echigo-yuzawa Shop
Website: www.ponshukan.com (Japanese)

Enjoy premium Japanese SAKE, excellent snacks on board

Travel in style with JR East’s Koshino Shu*Kura, a sake-themed train that offers unprecedented comfort and luxury. Taking a sip of selected Niigata sake and a bite of local delicacies while watching the scenery unfold through the windows is a pleasure you will remember forever. Live bands and sake-related events are also held on board to bring the travel experience to a new level.
Website: www.jreast.co.jp/e/joyful/shukura.html

*First cabin booking can only be booked through View Travel Package which is available for sale at JR EAST Travel Service Centers at Tokyo, Shinjuku and other stations, as well as at your nearby Travel Service Centers (View Plaza).

Sample juicy grilled seafood skewers

Seafood from Izumozaki is highly regarded by many Japanese cooks. Hamayaki, or bamboo skewered fish grilled directly on the beach, is a local delicacy that is now sold mostly indoors. Originally used as a method to preserve freshly-caught fish, Hamayaki stalls were once a common sight on the beach. As excess fat drips off, the seafood becomes less greasy, healthier and tastier. Only a few eateries offer this traditional taste nowadays.

Ishii Seafood Shop
Hours: 8am-5pm (or until sold out)
Address: 475 Hagurocho, Izumozaki Town, Santo-gun, Niigata Prefecture
Access: A 50-minute bus ride from Nagaoka Station on the Joestu Shinkansen or a 10-minute bus ride from Izumozaki Station on the JR Echigo Line
Website: hamayaki.biz/index.html (Japanese)

A delectable bowlful of sea bream

The long ria coastline of Kashiwazaki City makes it a fantastic location for fishing.
Kashiwazaki is one of the few locations within Niigata prefecture that boasts
a high volume of sea bream caught, giving rise to the large number of shops serving dishes made with sea bream. In fact, beloved local dish “Sea Bream Chazuke” even won the Grand Prix at the National Donburi Championship. Fried sea bream slices, salmon roe, seaweed and other ingredients are arranged on top of sea bream rice, before soup is poured over the entire dish. Each mouthful is filled with the goodness of the sea and will keep you coming back for more.

Tai-chazuke
Website: www.uwatt.com/ml/gourmet/

Niigata’s Soul Food

Tarekatsudon is a close relative of katsudon (rice topped with fried pork cutlet) with a soy sauce base. In the early years of the Showa Era (1926-1989), western-style food stalls in the city began offering this dish, which soon spread all over the prefecture to become one of Niigata’s best-loved specialties. A crispy slice of fried pork cutlet smothered in tangy sweet sauce, on top of warm fluffy rice will fill your stomach just by looking at it!

Niigata’s top 5 Ramen: Be wowed by the different flavours

Each of the different cultures in Niigata Prefecture has managed to produce its own unique style of ramen. Curry Ramen from Sanjo City and Se-abura Ramen from Tsubame City have been influenced by the craftsman culture of their respective places of origin. As for Niigata City’s Light Soy Sauce Ramen, it was born as a result of roadside stall owners not having the means to simmer broth for long periods of time, and hence created a broth that was rich yet did not require much time to cook. Nagaoka City’s Ginger Soy Sauce Ramen warms stomachs during harsh winters, while Rich Miso Ramen from Nishikan Ward in Niigata City is served with broth on the side, allowing diners to adjust the thickness of their ramen broth to their liking. Unlike other types of ramen, this one is eaten dipped in broth instead. If you visit Niigata, be sure to try all 5 types of ramen!

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