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Winter Highlights: Fabulous food

Seasonal Rhythm

Japan In-depth

In this age of year-round factory food, Japan provides unique opportunities to savor the taste of each season, and winter can be especially delicious.
As you travel around the country, look out for racks of squid, octopus and an astonishing assortment of fish being salt-dried on quays and beaches.

In Sapporo, you'll be amazed at the variety of seafood, and especially crabs, at the fish market, Nijo Ichiba. One of Nagano Prefecture's cottage industries is kori-dofu, wind-dried cubes of tofu that end up with a brittle, dry sponge-like consistency. In Nara Prefecture, Miwa's somen noodles dry naturally in the sun in winter.

Winter is also the peak time for brewing sake in the traditional way. Ask at your hotel: there may be a local brewery that welcomes visitors.

Japan Times Food Correspondent Robbie Swinnerton is delighted to share a fab five of Wonderful Winter Foods, and he recommends the following restaurants for a gourmet on the move seeking the essence of Japanese winter cuisine.
2-13-1 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku, Tokyo.
Tel +81 3 3631 2529
This classic restaurant in Ryogoku, not far from Japan's top sumo arena, serves a very superior, chicken-based chanko. The sumo connection is strong, as the founder (the father of the present master) was himself a wrestler.

 Kani Shogun 
14-6 South 4 West 2 , Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido.
Tel +81 11 222 2588
Winter visitors to Sapporo love this well-established crab restaurant, which is immediately identifiable by the massive mechanical crab with waving legs overlooking the entrance.

6-16-6 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tokyo.
Tel +81 3 3541 3883
While the main center for tora-fugu is Shimonoseki, much of the catch is shipped to Tokyo. One reputable (and safe!) place to sample this delicacy is Tentake, a large restaurant close to the wholesale market in Tsukiji.

Snow crab is at the peak of its season in midwinter. The best crabs come from the Japan Sea and from the waters to the north of Hokkaido.

Winter is also the peak season for fugu - blowfish - the best variety of which is the tora ("tiger") fugu. It also contains the deadliest toxins, which is why chefs have to obtain special licenses before they are allowed to serve it.

There is something very comforting about sitting around the slowly simmering oden pot, nibbling on long-cooked daikon, kamaboko or atsu-age (deep-fried tofu). Many people consider it the perfect accompaniment to sake.

Kiritanpo is a specialty of Akita Prefecture, where they know all about cold weather. It's a hearty nabe casserole made with the local hinai-jidori chickens, plenty of vegetables, and special rice dumplings that are grilled over charcoal.

Chanko nabe

A bubbling stew pot of seafood, meat, tofu and vegetables is the favorite food of sumo wrestlers. If this doesn't keep you warm in winter, nothing will!

But now, after all that food, you'll be wanting some exercise.... Read on!