Our guide to Tohoku’s best seafood
Maguro (Bluefin Tuna)
Tohoku is renowned for its large yield of bluefin tuna. Aomori’s Oma Maguro is famous for attracting record bids at the first auction of the year held in Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. The tuna from Miyako city in Iwate was legendarily praised as the finest of its kind by Rozanjin Kitaoji, an acclaimed artist and food connoisseur. Shiogama port in Miyagi lands one of the largest volumes of bluefin tuna, while Kesennuma city in Miyagi is said to have the highest number of fishermen on board its fleet of bluefin fishing boats.
Scallops caught in Mutsu Bay are the first thing people think of when it comes to seafood in Aomori. Their elegantly sweet flavour and densely rich taste are mouth-watering! One of the locals’ favourite homemade dishes, Kayaki (also known as Kaiyaki) miso, is a grill of local scallops cooked in a large scallop shell with vegetables including leek and Japanese Mitsuba parsley, topped with eggs and flavoured with miso. A variety of local specialties made with scallops caught in Mutsu Bay are available throughout the region.
Along with the popular oysters farmed off the coast of Miyagi, the Sanriku Coast is one of the largest oyster cultivation areas in Japan. The area’s topographical advantages of its ria coastline and surrounding mountains promote naturally mineral-rich water giving rise to fine quality oysters. The region’s relatively small oysters have an incredibly rich and creamy flavour and are in season from October to March.
Sea urchin is a popular summer ingredient in the regions along the Sanriku coast. Fresh sea urchin has a rich sweetness and refreshing flavours of the ocean. In addition to the nationally popular Uni-don (a bowl of rice topped with fresh sea urchins), a variety of fresh sea urchin dishes are available along the Sanriku coast including cured, grilled and steamed. Be sure to savour the local specialties such as Ichigoni, a delicate soup made with fresh sea urchins and abalones available in the surrounding area of Hachinohe city in Aomori and Kuji city in Iwate!
Each region of Tohoku along the Sea of Japan has its own unique salmon traditions. Murakami city in Niigata is said to have 100 salmon recipes of all parts of the fish utilising various cooking methods. In the Shonai region of Yamagata, Masu salmon is a local signifier of the arrival of spring and people enjoy it during springtime festivals. In Akita locals cure wild sockeye salmon known as Bodakko with salt, a slice of this very salty red salmon is the perfect accompaniment for a bowl of rice.
Ikura (Salmon Roe)
In Japan Ikura refers to cured salmon roe. The glossy orange-red bubbles, popping, melting and releasing a mellow flavour in the mouth, are gems of the sea. The Ikura from wild salmon caught off the Sanriku coast of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures each autumn is one of the best in Tohoku. “Harako-meshi”, a local specialty of Miyagi, is a gorgeous bowl of rice topped with slices of poached salmon caught in the Abukuma River and a generous portion of local Ikura.
Hoya (Sea Squirts)
Sea squirts caught along the Sanriku coast are regarded as blessings from the sea and are locally known as Sea Pineapples as their shape resembles the fruit. Fresh sea squirts have a mild, sweet and refreshing taste, and are said to be a satisfying ingredient containing all tastes - sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Savouring sashimi or marinated sea squirts is a popular summer pastime in Miyagi and they go perfectly with a cup of cool sake.
Beni-zuwaigani (Red Snow Crab)
The regions of Tohoku along the Sea of Japan are excellent producers of Beni-zuwaigani (red snow crabs), along with the famous producers of the Hokuriku and San’in regions. Niigata prefecture is one of Japan’s largest producers of Beni-zuwaigani while Akita and Yamagata prefectures are known for their snow crabs full of plump and sweet meat. Freshly caught and boiled Beni-zuwaigani can be enjoyed at markets in each of these locations.
Enjoy Tohoku’s fresh seafood along with its top quality rice!
Niigata and the prefectures of Tohoku each have their own varieties of premium rice. Sushi is the perfect meal to enjoy both fresh local seafood and the region’s first-class rice. Be sure to enjoy the creations of experienced local sushi chefs with a cup of locally produced sake!
Kaisen-don (Sashimi Rice Bowl)
Along with sushi, Kaisen-don, a bowl of rice topped with fresh seafood, is particularly recommended. A bowl overflowing with plentiful sashimi can be found at markets all over Tohoku. Each region has its own variety of Kaisen-don. Nokke-don in Aomori is a custom bowl of rice topped with the local seafood of your choice, while Sendai-zukedon in Miyagi consists of white fish marinated in a soy sauce-based dressing over a bowl of rice.
Shark fin is a delicacy not only found in Chinese cuisine. Kesennuma city in Miyagi is Japan’s largest producer of shark fin and is home to a number of dishes made with a generous portion of shark fin such as Shark Fin Sushi and a Kesennuma Shark Fin Rice Bowl. Be sure to enjoy the luxury of this local delicacy!
The Sanriku coast offers fresh oysters prepared using a variety of cooking methods. Simply eating fresh oysters offers diners their full of creaminess, while grilled oysters have the added delight of increased sweetness.
Local people traditionally enjoy gathering around a charcoal fire and grilling and steaming fresh seafood including oysters in huts known as Kakigoya along the Sanriku coast. Visitors can join in and sample both the fresh seafood and the vibrant atmosphere.
A variety of local products are also available including oyster sauce, oyster miso and oysters cooked in their own brine by the region’s traditional “Ushio-ni” cooking method.
Where to find Tohoku’s best seafood
Local markets and roadside stations usually offer fresh seafood and sushi as well as products made with locally sourced ingredients. Add some flavour to your travel around Tohoku by visiting some of the places below.
Matsushima Fish Market
Akita Citizens Market
Minato Market (Sakata)
Sakata Seafood Market