Shikoku (四国) Dining
I'm starting this thread to aggregate Shikoku dining experiences and recommendations. It's not a well-traveled part of the country for English speakers, but certainly a worthy overall food and drink destination. Let's post experiences here.
With an open invitation from a family friend, I finally took the trip to Tokushima on Shikoku island during the Obon holiday week so that my visit coincides with the famous Awaodori festival, the largest traditional dance festival in Japan. The festival itself is well worth the journey to Tokushima, but I was also impressed with the local cuisine. I did very little planning as I was led around by my friend, a local entrepreneur, and he was eager to show me the delights of Tokushima (aka Naruto) cuisine.
First stop was dinner at a kappo-style restaurant called Hasuna (蓮菜) located in the city center, where our local guide is a regular and is the place he chooses to entertain clients. Hasuna has a 5-seat counter and a small dining room on the first floor, and private rooms on the second floor. The chef trained for many years in Tokyo under the original Iron Chef Japan, Rokusaburo Michiba. His wife also trained vigorously for years in Tokyo as a front-of-the-house staff at a prominent ryotei. Many people comment on what a young and attractive okamisan she is, and are often impressed by her mastery of traditional manners. Also impressive is that she writes the menu everyday in that artistic script. Looking through the menu, it's quite obvous that the chef is fully versed in the local culinary traditions, and he tends to add some new spin to liven up his cuisine. Among the three daily specials we sampled, two were revelations. First was a hamo (conger eel) dish, where the hamo may have been barely blanched or seared, but was mostly raw, as in sashimi. I've never had hamo that wasn't cooked (like the hamo shabu shabu that's common in Kyoto). The vinegared miso dipping sauce gave it just enough snappiness to liven up the delicateness of the hamo. The other revelation was the katsuo tataki. Most everyone in Japan knows katsuo tataki that's served on bed of onion and garlic and doused with ponzu, but this one was served as a "shio-tataki". It is a technique borrowed from neighboring Kochi prefecture, but can only be done with katsuo that is fresh enough where the funkiness of the fish hasn't yet settled in (which is why most katsuo tataki uses the aid of onion/herbs/garlic/ponzu to mask some of that funkiness). Shio tataki can only be made by fish that was caught that day. This was simply salted and given the quick flame treatment to sear the outer layer, sliced and rolled in a small bouquet of herbs. No ponzu. For anyone who enjoys katsuo tataki like I do, this was heavenly. The other special was abalone sauteed in butter, and a fine, luxurious version it was. I have difficulty remembering many of the other items we tried, as most things were ordered for us. What I do remember is having nothing that wasn't good to very good Like the tako and ika sashimi, sashimi of a local fish called bouze (ボウゼ), which probably goes by a diferent name in other parts of Japan), a salad made from local tai (sea bream), a rather interesting concoction using camembert cheese, tomatoes and a pesto sauce, and a tai kamameshi to finish off the meal.
I was actually a bit surprised by the wonderful variety of seafood for the middle of the Summer. I would really love to visit Hasuna during the Fall/Winter months when there are likely to be many more varieties of fish/seafood in season.
Our Tokushima guide was beaming about Shishikui, which is located near the ferry terminal and very close to the wholesale fish market. It's a rather unassuming place, especially from the back parking lot, with cratefuls of empty clam/scallop/oyster/turban and other shells lining the wall. (Apparently, these shells are pulverized into a powder and used as fertilizer). This is about as close as one would get to an indoor version of a clambake in Japan. Shishikui caters to a lot of families or large parties with their generous offerings of the local seafood. While they do offer a menu, it seems that most people come for either of 3 set course meals. priced at 5250, 8400, and 10500 yen. The mid-level course is the standard, and the variation between the price is whether you get no ise-ebi (spiny lobster), one ise-ebi, or two ise-ebi (sashimi and grilled). The dining room is staffed by many women who are extremely adept at handling the seafood, de-shelling, and serving up the bucketfuls of local seafood. This is the best kind of quality no-frills dining.
The first course is the abalone sashimi. As this first course is being served, the table grill is turned on and the servers quickly skewer the uchiwa-ebi (these fan-shaped shrimp), plop them on the grill along with an abolone for each person, and starts to deshell baby shrimp (kuruma ebi odori) that they plop on your plate to be eaten as sashimi. The baby shrimp heads are placed on the grill, and when they are browned and crisp, they are served as "osembei" (shrimp cracklings). After a little cooking period, the uchiwa ebi are cracked open and the tail meat is lifted out of its shell and onto your plate, and the tomalley is offered up as a dipping sauce, or just eaten as is. Uchiwa-ebi is caught in many parts of the Seto inland sea, and I've come to enjoy this at some local sushi shops in Hiroshima. This species of shrimp seems more closely related to lobsters with their hard shells, and I find the tail meat as sweet as lobster or those cigalas that you get in Spain. While finishing off the uchiwa-ebi, the grilled abalone is being pried from its shell, sliced up and served. The grill is of course being replenished while you're eating the thick slices of soft, sweet abalone, this time with clams, sazae (turban shells), and the local variety of scallop. However, it's around this mid-course that the ise-ebi sashimi arrives at the table (one per diner), the tail meat sliced up and placed within its own body (still moving, of course). Ise-ebi tail meat is very sweet and delicate, and doesn't have that slight muddiness that I find with American (northeastern) lobster. I can't get enough of it, really. Once the sashimi is eaten, the servers take away the heads to be made into the miso soup for later. In the meantime, the clams/scallop/sazae are waiting. The clams are served up as they open up, but the scallops are cooked well, and flavored with a sweet soy sauce cooked right in the shell.
I learned something new about sazae here. Most sazae I've eaten have had a dark colored inner core (the intestines, I imagine), but that color is associated with females. The male sazae have innards that are white and are not as bitter as the female's dark innards. It's that dark core that turns most people off to sazae. But it's easily avoidable. However, the sweetest part of the sazae is at the tip of the curlycued end. Most people tend to discard the entire end of the sazae from that dark portion downward, but where that dark "intestine" portion ends, you'll find something really tasty and sweet.
By this point, you might be asking for mercy, but the ise-ebi infused miso soup arrives and somehow you gain your appetite back, for this is one of the more extravagent miso soup you can have. And if you're not full at this point, you can enjoy the rice and tsukemono, and of course the fruit dessert.
Other chowing in Tokushima included things like udon, which tends to be a slightly lesser version than the stuff one finds in Kagawa to the north. And while it was on the agenda, our chance to sample Tokushima ramen was foiled by rain and the awaodori festival. Tokushima's shoyu-tonkotsu ramen was recently named one of the best B-kyu foods in Japan (not sure by whom), and has been growing in popularity. I was given a box set to make at home. But I'm sure I'll make a return trip to Tokushima to sample more of the delicious local foods.
I've been doing some planning for a trip to Shikoku and surrounding areas in March. This thread timing is great!
Any advice for Iya Valley, Imabari or across the sea at Kojima?
I've found a few places in or near Kojima thus far:
Sayaka taste of Setouchi (清香本店)
Recommended for local seafood and local octopus
Plum Villa (梅荘)
Recommended for udon
Cooking Octopus -( 元祖たこ料理 保乃家)
Another local seafood and local octopus restaurant
I spent an afternoon in the Iya valley. From my research, it seems for food it is best to book and stay at a resort. The Kazurabashi Hotel seemed to have the best reputation for food. I didn't eat there, but checked out the onsen. The hotel itself just seemed ok. On the ride in, I saw a lot of signs for Iya soba. It's a beautiful, interesting area. Back in Okayama, I did not got to Kojima, but did spend some time in Kurashiki. If you are planning to spend some time there, look to book at a chicken place, as they seem to be abundant and popular there.
SiverJay, thank you for your report. Last summer, i have made a reservation at the hotel Seifukan in the Seto Island, unfortunately, was delayed...
The most convenient itinery from Tokyo seems to stop at Mihara station, then to take the ferry from Ozaki to Tenma, and the taxi..
How long do you recommend to stay ? 2nights, 3 days is it too short ? And, I have heard about an udon factory,
I don't know about that particular island. It says it is in Hiroshima-ken. I traveled to Shikoku via Hiroshima and then took the ferry to Matsuyama. I'm posting in reverse order the places I traveled. One could also take a train to Okayama and then another train to Takamatsu or there are express buses between Kobe & Osaka and Tokushima City...Takamatsu is good for a day. Perhaps two if you went to one of the nearby temple towns or something....Most of the good udon shops make their own udon in house, in the restaurant. There's no need to visit a factory really unless I guess you wanted to see things on an industrial scale.
Sometimes artisanal factory spaghetti are better than the shop
made, as soon as i have the reference that was gave to me by a serious delicate palats friend I will share it...
I didn't notice that the Seto island was so numerous, I will have to check the itinery more carefully so..
TAKAMATSU CITY (.高松市)
Kagawa Prefecture (香川県)
Takamatsu is the largest city in Kagawa Prefecture.
The most well-known food for this part of the country is “Sanuki udon”. Sanuki is the old name for Kagawa. For most people who try Sanuki udon it should taste familiar as it has more or less become the defacto style of udon that you may be familiar with elsewhere. That said, it is a must to try while in Takamatsu. There are of course no shortage of shops. I tried two.
Makoto Udon is a tiny family run place that caters to locals. Behind the counter, one guy thumps, pounds, rolls, and cuts the noodles. Ordering is based on hot (kake) or chilled (zaru). Kake is served in a light dashi broth. Zaru is served with a dipping tsuyu. Toppings include negi, tenkasu, various tempura options, egg (called tsukumi- moon view in English!), and there was a meat (niku) option as well. They also have some onigiri, inari zushi, futomaki zushi, and a few small pre-made salads. Most of the crowd are locals as it is not that close to the tourist attractions or any train stations. I ordered kake udon with an egg. The noodles were excellent chewy-al dente. The broth was very light, a little “unpronounced” for me. But I liked the udon. My meal cost 250 YEN. There was a line starting to form as I was leaving. Also, next to the tv in the corner there is a framed photo of NYC skyline with the twin towers.
I preferred the udon and experience at Uehara-ya more. This is quite a well-known shop and serves locals and tourists. It’s just to the east of Ritsurin Park, close to the East Gate. Uehara was recommended to me by a local bartender who said they were consistently good in terms of the noodles and that the broth was tasty. They shop is a “Self” shop, set up rather as a small cafeteria with a bit of a system for the customers to handle things themselves.
First you grab a tray and go through a short line to select your major toppings. They are pre-prepared, but in small batches so as to remain fresh. I chose a gigantic kaki-age bursting with a couple types of onions, sliced kabocha, julienned carrot, and some mizuna. I also snagged a delicious and plump croquet. And lastly, a jyako-ten paddy. Jyako-ten is slightly sweet, non-oily flat fish cake made from small fish caught in the Inland Sea. They are a next door Ehime Prefecture specialty, but you see them all over Shikoku. Once you snag your items, you move to the udon station and place your order. If you order kake to stay, you will receive the noodles completely plain in a bowl. If you order to go, they will give you a little bag of tsuyu. I was dining in, so I paid for things at the register, then swung around to a service island in the middle of the shop. There are several small stations. First, a bin of near boiling water and several handy noodle seives. Dump your udon into one of the seives, dip it into the water for 5 seconds, pull it out, shake off, and then dump them back into your bowl. The station to the left served the tsuyu via a couple of hot tea style beverage taps. You can add as much of the daily-made broth as you like. At the end of the end of island is a final toppings bar with tenkasu, fresh ginger, and negi. You help yourself here.
Everything was great. The broth is a light dashi with more shoyu flavor than Makoto. The noodles were a bit thicker. The tempura was terrific. Meal was less then 1000 YEN. They also serve oden, bara zushi, and inari zushi, as well as sell packages of their udon or tsuyu for souveniers.
I was curious about sushi near the 瀬戸内海 (Seto Inland Sea), so I booked at Sushi Nakagawa, a very highly regarded shop buried in the central arcade in Takamatsu. It’s a beautiful, modest operation and you are served by Nakagawa-san himself. December specialties were hirame, tai, and anago. A big part of Nakagawa-san’s service is searing, parboiling, and blanching. He’ll serve many items raw and then also touched on the grill or parboiled/ blanched. His negitoro was unique and tasty. It was minced toro with minced takuan, a sort of smoky tasting pickle. Anago was served several ways, including an absolutely fabulous shiro-yaki. Best anago I’ve ever had. Anything seared, was done on the bincho grill. No blowtorches here. His rice is also more fuller grain and less polished than other shops. This might not appeal to some, but since many of his items are partially cooked or preserved, I thought it suited the neta well. All things considered, his style of sushi is probably closer to what was considered the original Edo-mae style. But after the omakase, upon request, he did serve plenty of raw things. This is one of the top shops I’ve been to in the country.
After dinner one night, I felt like a Scotch or two and found on the internet Bar Shamrock near my hotel. It’s on the second floor overlooking a main drag in the arcade. Shamrock is run by a young guy who spent time in England and is passionate about, well, the bar business. He stocks a huge selection of Scotch and not a bad bourbon list either. Belgian beers in bottles. He speaks good English and has traveled a fair bit. Nice guy and good place for a drink. There’s also another Irish themed place near the main JR Takamatsu Station called The Craic. I read it had a good selection of Japanese craft beers.
誠うどん (Makato Udon)
上原屋 本店 (Uehara-ya Honten)
寿司 中川 (Sushi Nakagawa)
香川県高松市南新町１０−１ , 760-0051