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Oct 26, 2008 07:39 PM

Kanazawa (金沢) Preview

I am excited to be making an excursion this year to Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. It's my first time to the city and only my second time to the Japan Sea side of the country. Kanazawa was a seat of wealth and power throughout most of the Edo Era as it was the home of the Maeda clan, the second most powerful after the Tokugawa clan in Edo. The Maeda's were patrons of art and culture, and fine lacquerware, tea ceremony, and Noh theatre flourished. In stride with these traditions rose a grand culinary one as well. To put it simply, there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to dining in Kanazawa. Just reading up on I'm starting to draw a conclusion that it provides a kind of "perfect storm" of the essentials of Japanese cuisine- blindingly fresh seafood caught locally and sold at an impressive market, locally grown vegetables, a distinct regional cuisine, Kyoto-rivaling courtly traditions, a strong reputation for Japanese sweets, excellent rice, and superior sake.

Kaga Cuisine (加賀料理)
Although a bit under the radar, all sources say that the local Kaga kaiseki cuisine rivals Kyoto in the use of seasonal and local ingredients and the refinement with which it is served. There's some tongue in cheek speculation that kaiseki developed in Kanazawa as a means to show off the fine lacquerware.

For a city of half a million, there seem to be several dozen establishments serving kaiseki, including many attractive ryokan. Prices can reach up to 30,000 YEN, but lunch service ranges closer to 5,000 for upscale places. I'm at a loss as to how to choose just from internet research, so I'll just post info about one stand alone place. Many of the ryokan in and around the city seem to have developed a good reputation for Kaga kaiseki as well.

Miyabino (雅乃 )
-Lunch 4,000 YEN
-Dinner 10,000 YEN
Link (Japanese)
A blog account with photos (Japanese)-
Another one (Japanese)-
Last one (Japanese)-

While not kaiseki, this place seems to be interesting place for local cuisine and they certainly have a great website. I'm keen to see their winter menu in a few months.

Bantei (ばん亭
)Link (Japanese)-

Also under Kaga cuisine, there are a number of regional specialty foods I'll want to look out for as well:

Kabura-zushi (かぶら寿司
)"Salted yellowtail (buri) fillets are sandwiched between the pickled turnip (kabu) slices, and pickled with a mixture of rice and rice malt."

Tai no karamushi (鯛の唐蒸し
)Steamed sea bream with vegetables.

Gori cuisine (ゴリ料理)
A kind of fresh water kasago fish caught in the nearby rivers that is usually fried, pickled, made into clear soup, or used to flavor sake.

Jibu-ni (じぶ煮,冶部煮)
Perhaps the most well known regional dish is jibu-ni, which is sliced duck meat coated with flour or starch and simmered with fu (dried bread-like pieces of gluten), shiitake, bamboo shoots and green vegatables in a soup made with dashi, mirin, sugar, salt, shoyu and sake. There are some places that may actually serve game duck, but most do not.

Kaga renkon (加賀れんこん
)Local lotus root.

Suzu Salt (能登塩)
Salt that is harvested from the beaches of Suzu on the eastern part of the Noto peninsula.

Pickled Fugu Ovary (河豚の卵巣の糠漬け)
-The name says it all. Even in Japanese, it sounds wacky. In case you're wondering, yes the ovary does contain large amounts of poison. But through the pickling process- nuka-zuke (rice bran)- the poison is either removed or deactivated. No one actually knows. Below is a wonderful site (in English) dedicated to the dish. The front page has a nice ring to it: "The Miracle of Poison Removal: Pickled Blowfish Ovaries"
Link (English)-

I don't imagine pickled pufferfish ovary going down too easily with just water or tea. Thankfully, the Ishikawa Prefecture is sake country. Here's a slightly dated article from John Gaunter on the region's offerings (English)- . Fukumitsuya has a good English website (English)- . A good looking sake bar to sample many of the local brews looks to be Fisherman's Bar Zizake- (Japanese) .

Omi-cho Market (近江町市場
)Market homepage link (Japanese)-
Market guide page link (Japanese)-
Internet sources have pegged the history of the market between 240-500 years old. Even at the low end, that would be more than three times as old as Tsukiji. At Omicho, over 200 shops provide provisions of all sorts of things, including produce and plenty of pickled things. But of course it's the seafood that is the real draw. I've often had chefs in Japan brag about fish from the Japan Sea as being the best in the world, reasoning that the south to north currents that run through it provide rich and abundant nutrients. I'll be there in December and in winter time, crab, ama ebi, and buri (adult yellowtail) seem to be the most high profile items. But nodoguro, uni, tara (a kind of cod), and anko (monkfish) are also being recommended. I'm most looking forward to enjoying the winter buri (寒ブリ) which is good all over the country but is reknown in Ishikawa Prefecture and the waters off of Noto Peninsula. Buri daikon, buri teriyaki, sashimi, and sushi are some of the standard preperations. I'm hoping to run into a few more different unfamiliar ones as well.

Yamasan Sushi
A counter sushi restaurant in the market.
Link (Japanese)-

Omicho Shokudo (近江町食堂
)Kaisen donburi place. Sashimi rice bowl.
Link (Japanese)-

Hirai (ひら井
)Another kaisen donburi place.
Link (Japanese)-

Daimatsu Suisan
Seafood shop.
Link (Japanese)-

These jokers took it upon themselves to grab a bowl of rice and walk through the market negotiating for sashimi from vendors and eating it right away at a local shrine--> .

This sushi shop is raved about on Japanese blogs as being on par with any of the top shops in Tokyo-

Komatsuyasuke (小松弥助
)Link (Japanese)-

A couple of interesting looking izakaya- one rough and one a bit more refined-

Ajidokoro Yamashita (味処 山下

Koide (こいで

Kanazawa is also very well know for Japanese confections and tea treats. I confess that when traveling in Japan, I buy these types of things at the train station shops on my way home.

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  1. It's also worth noting that kaiten sushi is big in Kanazawa as well. And the most famous native born son is Hideki Matsui-->

    1. Lucky you. Kanazawa is in my top 5 places I'd like to chowhound around in Japan as well. I think only Kagoshima and Hokkaido are the places that might trump it currently.

      Here are a few more Engligh language links for Kanazawa.

      You may already have come across this restaurant listing as well:

      Coincidentally, I was having a conversation about Kanazawa with a Japanese chef last night. And he made a recommendation for a place. I didn't think to write it down, but I'll get that information.

      2 Replies
      1. re: E Eto

        Hi E Eto,

        Thanks for the links. I look forward to your reviews of Kagoshima and Hokkaido. :)

        1. re: E Eto

          The restaurant that was brought up in discussion is called Zeniya (銭屋). It looks like a ryotei serving kaga ryori and many of those Kanazawa meibutsu that were described upthread.

        2. Hey, have fun up there! I was just in Kanazawa a few weeks ago, and I had a good meal at an izakaya called Daiba (076-263-9191), in the same building as the Kanazawa Miyako Hotel and very close to the train station. It was creative izakaya fare, with good fish and lots of local dishes (like jibuni). They also had a small but respectable sake list, including a special selection of rare and limited-edition super-premium sakes. Nice modern decor too, and the tables are separated by drop-down screens - you can still hear and see people, but it's a little more private and it cuts down on the cigarette smoke.

          1. Hi Silverjay,

            Awesome post! :) I can't wait to try some of these places the next time I'm in Japan. You have just made the Quote of the Month:

            "But through the pickling process- nuka-zuke (rice bran)- the poison is either removed or deactivated. No one actually knows."

            Hahahaha! (^_^) That sounds so risky, dangerous and mysterious. :) I can't wait to try this (and I look forward to your review of it!).

            Thanks again Silverjay.

            1. Thanks for the tips gents....

              I want to give the Kanazawa wagashi scene it's due, so here is some further information:

              This site provides a description of the main types of Kanazawa sweets:

              Link (English):

              You can always visit confectioners directly and I'm sure they all have their own stand alone shops, but I think the best place to buy this kind of thing is at markets. This link provides information about the Ishikawa Souvenirs and Gifts Shop AND the Kanazawa Hyakubangai Shopping Center. I've found that these type of places are usually really done well in Japan.

              Link (English):

              Want to try your hand at making wagashi yourself? Looks like you can do this at the place below. You pay a flat rate and take a short course in making treats. I've read that they do not offer the courses in English, but that they are easy to follow along just watching people. The local tourist agency can probably recommend best, but here is a link in Japanese-
     . 1,200 YEN for a 30 minute course, plus you get a 500 YEN "kaimono" coupon that you can use toward stuff made by the pros. This seems to be popular for school field trips.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Silverjay

                Silverjay, thanks for this post. Kanazawa is on top of my list of places to visit, definitely. I love Pickled Fugu Ovary with sake, especially kan. Hope you have a chance to visit Fukumitsuya there. Enjoy your trip!

                1. re: Silverjay

                  Silverjay, thanks for this informative post, it's helped me plan my itinerary for my upcoming 3 week Japan trip. I am committed to spending time in Tokyo and Nagoya but the rest of the itinerary is flexible and will be heavily influenced by all things culinary. I notice that Kanazawa is 2.5 hours train ride from Nagoya so am planning at least a day and a night there. If I get to some of the places first, I will report back. Omicho market sounds awesome, here's an enticing review I came across for Yamasan:


                  I remember we talked about "nodoguro" earlier in the year on another board, trying to identify the English name for this fish, I think we both agreed it's delicious and certainly it's highly prized in Nagoya sushi shops based upon the few days I spent there in January.

                  Looks like I'll be touring around Kyushu with a side trip to Busan (also reckoned to have superb fish markets) on the hydrofoil so should be plenty of great eating.

                  Enjoy your trip.