Hidden away below Okayama prefecture lies the island of Shikoku, and the 4 prefectures that consist of it. Ehime, Kanagawa, Tokushima and Kochi Prefecture. Shikoku is the smallest of the 4 major islands of Japan, and due to the limited transportation options, and lack of Shinkansen line running through, its typically not the first place visitors tend to think when visiting Japan, creating an untouched and pure experience of Japanese culture and experiences. Despite this, Shikoku has a deep and reach history, beautiful cultural traditions and festivals and of course delicious regional food that is special to each Prefecture. In this article, we are going to explore the different regional food of Shikoku, share a bit of the history about it, and why it is special and beloved by the people who live there.
Ehime Prefecture – The land of Seafood and Citrus
The food of Ehime is centred on the seafood of the Inland Sea and Uwakai, whose dramatically tidal waters result in large and muscular fish, notably sea bream and yellowtail. And the most notable dish to use the sea bream is called Tai-meshi , which is regarded as the “soul food” of Ehime. Tai Meshi consists of a bowl of cooked rice topped with red snapper sashimi that has been dipped in raw egg yolk mixed with a sweet sauce. The red snapper in the Ehime region is caught in the Seto Inland Sea, which gives it notably firm flesh and an exceptional flavour that goes excellently with the creamy egg yolk and sweet sauce. A great place to visit to try Tai-meshi is at Goshiki, a famous restaurant in Sanbancho Street, Matsuyama City
Not only does Ehime have delicious food, it is also Japan’s largest producer of a citrus fruit, known generically as ‘mikan’. The Mikan of Ehime are a perfect balance of sweet and sour. Their full flavour is a result of the perfect natural growing conditions of sunshine, sea breezes, and mild temperatures. Approximately 40 varieties of citrus fruits including Mikan are grown in Ehime – the largest number of varieties in all Japan! Do not miss trying the wide range of products made with Mikan such as fresh juices, ice cream, jelly and more. In fact, Ehime loves Mikan so much that the official mascot of Matsuyama, Ehime’s capital city, is a mikan character called Mikyan!
Kagawa Prefecture – The land of udon
When you say Kagawa Prefecture to someone living in Japan, the first word they will immediately reply with is Udon. This is because Kagawa has an abundance of this incredibly popular and delicious Japanese dish and home to arguably the most famous type of udon in Japan: Sanuki udon. It takes its name from the prefecture’s former name of Sanuki, and the noodles are characterized by their firm, chewy texture and thick, square shape with smooth, flat edges. Udon remains extremely popular in Kagawa Prefecture. They can be served as other udon noodles, for example, served cold with a dipping sauce or in a hot broth with toppings. With over 700 Sanuki Udon restaurants across the prefecture, a fair number can be found in the shopping and dining districts of Takamatsu. My personal favourite version of Sanuki Udon is called Shippoku Udon. Shippoku Udon is usually eaten during the autumn or winter when the winds become cold. Various kinds of seasonal vegetables are cooked together with the soup, and they are poured over the udon. My favourite place to try this dish is at Otani noodle factory.
Another local specialty of Kagawa Prefecture is Honetsuki-dori, which has its origins from Marugame City. Honetsuki-dori (or chicken on the bone) is seasoning whole chicken thighs with salt, pepper, spices, and so on, slowly grilling them over a flame and while applying fat, the tastiness of the meat is intensified. Roughly chopped raw cabbage is served together with the chicken, and if you dip the cabbage into the extremely tasty fat that drips from the meat, you will feel like you could keep on eating it forever. Typically, you can choose between the hinadori (young chicken) meat or oyadori (adult chicken) which has a characteristically firm texture. There’s a branch of popular honetsuki-dori restaurant named Ikkaku located in Marugame, Takamatsu and around Japan for you to try.
Located in Sakaide City, Sakaide Sweet Potato Balls are fried sweet potato balls are made by mixing locally grown sweet potato and carrots and coating the mixture with Shodo Island somen noodles. These delicious sweets with a crunchy exterior and warm potato on the inside are full of Sakide flavours – made and consumed locally.
Tokushima Prefecture – The land of traditional agriculture and hearty food
Tokushima is a small prefecture southwest of Osaka best known for being the birthplace of Japan’s traditional Awa Odori dance, but there are also natural wonders such as the Whirlpools of Naruto and the unparalleled scenery of Iya Valley. As there is so much to do, you are bound to need some hearty food to keep you going, so here are some of the local foods you can expect in Tokushima. Tokushima ramen is something true ramen lovers know about. Tokushima ramen is identifiable by its colours: Its soup is either brown, yellow or white. The noodles in the broth are moderately thin and soft. The brown soup, which is the most common, uses Tonkotsu (port bone broth) with dark soy sauce or Tamari soy sauce. The toppings are Chashu (sliced pork), green onions, bean sprouts and a raw egg. This ramen has a hot and sweet flavour. Due to the rich flavour, Tokushima residents often eat their Tokushima ramen with white rice, although it can be very carb-heavy! I absolutely love eating Tokushima Ramen at Ramen Todai. There are branches all around the city!
Outside the capital city of Tokushima, you can find Iya, one of the three major mystical regions of Japan, lies deep in the mountains of the western-most region of Tokushima Prefecture. It is a colder region, which is ideal for growing cold-loving soba (buckwheat). Very little binder is used when making Iya soba, so it is remarkably easy to slice thinly and has a smooth texture. It is also thicker and shorter than regular soba. One of the more well-known Soba dishes in this region is called Bokeage Soba. Bokeage is a gigantic piece of aburaage (deep-fried tofu) that’s sold at the local supermarket. A hearty piece of bokeage, made from local Iya tofu, is placed on top of the noodles.
Kochi Prefecture – The land of local cuisine
Kochi is the largest of the 4 prefectures located in Shikoku, and with such a sparse landscape of different smaller cities, each region itself has its local cuisine that is beloved by the people of Kochi, and that they are incredibly proud of. Undeniably, the most popular and well-known dish of Kochi is Katsuo Tataki, lightly broiled, sliced bonito (also known as skipjack tuna). It is served alongside spring onions, ginger and garlic and seasoned with salt or soya sauce with vinegar and citrus. Traditionally, katsuo no tataki should be broiled over a straw fire until just the outer layer is grilled a little bit. The story goes that a Kochi fishermen, unsure of eating fish raw and unable to afford soy sauce, would sprinkle their catch with salt, collect any nearby driftwood to make a fire, then sear the fish right on the beach. Although the accuracy of its roots remains hazy, the dish has grown in popularity and become a well-known symbol of the area. A great atmosphere to enjoy this dish is Hirome Ichiba in the city, although you can find Katsuo Tataki all around Kochi.
South of Kochi City you can enjoy the ramen of Kochi, which is beloved by the people. Nabeyaki (meaning: hot pot) ramen is a local specialty in Susaki City, which was born during the time right after WWII when a ramen shop owner carried ramen in enamelled pots in order for them to stay warm when delivering. The soup is chicken broth with soy sauce, and the noodles are hard and thin. Usually, the ingredients are very simple: spring onion, chikuwa fish rings and a raw egg. The chicken meat in the dish often uses tough, young chickens. Susaki’s official mascot is Shinjo-kun, a Japanese river otter who wears a Nabeyaki Ramen for a hat. You can try this popular dish at over 40 restaurants in Susaki City, but my favourite has to be Hashimoto shokudō.
Although only a few local cuisines were mentioned above, there are so much more depth with the local food in and around Shikoku, so go ahead and explore all the different dishes you can find. The people of Shikoku are very proud of their food, and the history behind it, so enjoy your adventures around Shikoku, and don’t forget the food!