Oct 1, 2015
Rice lies at the heart of almost every meal you’ll enjoy during your stay in Niigata prefecture.
If you’re planning to visit Niigata prefecture, our advice to you is to travel light. One bite of its fragrant, pillowy rice, and you’ll see why it’s famous the world over – and it’s so good that you’ll surely want to buy a few packets of it to enjoy at home.
Many believe that Niigata’s Koshihikari rice is among the best money can buy, and that’s no small praise for a country that takes its rice very seriously. A region that experiences harsh winters and heavy snowfall, the pristine melting snow is responsible for nourishing the numerous rice paddies that dot the prefecture. Koshihikari rice has a delicate sweetness that makes it tasty enough to be eaten on its own.
One of the must-try delicacies when you’re there has to be the sasazushi (bamboo leaf sushi), shown in the picture here. A regional specialty in the Niigata and Nagano prefectures, it is rice that’s been seasoned with vinegar, moulded into oval shapes, then placed on bamboo leaves. To try it for yourself, head to the inn and restaurant Harumi-so in Myoko city. Sushi toppings range from salmon, to bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, zenmai (Japanese flowering fern), and kinshi tamago (strips of thin omelet), or whatever else is locally and seasonally available. Bamboo leaves are used because of their anti-bacterial properties, which allow food to be kept for longer. Sasazushi is the highlight in a generous set meal that includes noppei (vegetables stewed in potato starch), butajiru (a rich pork based soup), as well as agebitashi (deep-fried eggplant soaked in dashi).
Of course, in Niigata, where there’s an abundance of clean, soft water and quality rice, there is no shortage of excellent sake as well. Connoisseurs around the world continue to rave about sake from Niigata, which is known for being crisp and dry, with a more delicate aroma compared to sake from other parts of Japan. It is really the perfect accompaniment to the exciting and novel flavours you’ll be experiencing on your gastronomic journey in Niigata.
(TEXT DENISE LI • PHOTOGRAPHY OSAMU NAKAMURA)