Japan has got to be one of the top destinations where there is an endless list of foods to try. Seriously, I am not kidding when I say I am definitely making a second trip to Japan just to eat. Each city has something special to offer wherever you go. Especially Nara, their food is so unique! Their dishes date back centuries and have not changed at all. So, when you take a bite into the foods that are home to Nara, you will feel like you went into a time travel machine!
Let me introduce you to some of Nara’s authentic specialities that you won’t find anywhere else.
Local gourmet, Nara foods
1. Miwa Somen (noodles)
Photo via Is Japan Cool?
Miwa Somen is a bowl of white, thin flour noodles with salt and seasonal toppings in soft water from Mount Miwa. The soft taste of water is one of the purest in Japan. These noodles date back to over 1,200 years ago in Miwa district, Yamato, Nara Prefecture. In the Edo period, Miwa Somen was known for being “as thin as thread and as white as snow” to those who travelled to Ise Grand Shrine. You will understand why once you set your eyes on it. Since the noodles have a subtle flavour, it can be eaten with soy sauce.
Miwa Somen was born in Miwa, Sakurai city, Nara Prefecture. They have been using wheat noodles for a while. In fact, these firm noodles can be eaten as reimen (cold noodles) in ice water. Reimen involves dipping the noodles into dashi soy sauce before you eat it. Otherwise, nyu-men (hot noodles) in warm soup is also an option. Without doubt, either will be sure to satisfy your cravings. At Miwa Yamamoto Restaurant, they make high quality Miwa Somen that comes in a lunch set with other local specialties. Such as kakinoha sushi and kuzu mochi. So delicious!
Miwa Yamamoto Somen Restaurant information
2. Kakinoha-sushi (Persimmon leaf sushi)
Photo via kyoudo-ryouri
A must-eat, famous local dish in Nara is the persimmon leaf sushi. This dish consists of thinly sliced sashimi salt-marinated mackerel on a small portion of vinegar rice, wrapped in persimmon leaves. In the past, locals ate it on festival days as celebratory food. Back then, the locals-only used mackerel, but today, they use sashimi salmon, eel and so forth.
Surprisingly, what makes this dish so unique is that the fragrant persimmon leaves have an antibacterial effect. For this reason, the dish can last for longer. This dish is left to ferment in persimmon leaves for 3 days after it is made. Then eaten, despite it not having been stored in the fridge. Basically, the persimmon leaves around it keeps the fish fresh. Ok, I know what you are thinking, is this even safe to eat?! The answer is yes, Nara chefs are obviously skilled at their jobs. It’s no wonder these chefs have brought this dish to fame in Nara.
At Hirasou Japanese restaurant, take a bite into their delicious sushi. In fact, they also offer the option to purchase the sushi in a box to give as a present.
3. Narazuke (pickles)
Photo via Gurunavi
Narazuku are dark brown pickles. They came about in Nara, during the 8th century. The pickles date back to about 1,300 years. The high-quality dish requires salting various fruit, vegetables and spices such as white melon, watermelon, cucumbers, uri gourd, ginger and so forth. Furthermore, the ingredients are then constantly soaked in sake lees. Sake lees are the remaining from the process of making sake. Hence, why it has the scent of sake. For the most part, it can take up to 3 years to make the pickles, which makes it even more special.
Also, a place to try these unique local pickles is at Shirozakeya. They sell it packaged.
4. Chagayu (rice porridge)
Photo via Gurunavi
Chagayu is the most popular dish in Nara prefecture. It is a rice porridge made with green tea. The rice boils in roasted green tea, alongside added salt. This is cooked until it develops into a soupy consistency. The non-sticky texture of the porridge is what makes it known in Nara.
The dish also offers an option to be eaten hot or cold. In fact, the Japanese saying goes “mornings in Yamato begin with green tea rice porridge”. Thus, suggests it is served as a popular breakfast. This is due to the fact that the dish is very filling! This dish dates back to over 1,200 years ago. In the past, Buddhist monks in the Kamakura period used to eat it. Thereafter, the dish expanded to local households. Although the recipe to make this dish is quite simple, the taste is different depending on who cooks it.
Sabo Non-non cafe makes delicious Chagayu. Here, their most well-known dish is Chagayu Gozen which is basically a mix of Chagayu and pickles.
Sabo non-non information
【Address】Inside Nara Orient-kan, 43-2 Nishinoshinyacho, Nara, 630-8334
【Opening hours】10am-4:45pm. Closed Mondays.
【Access】Take the Kintetsu Nara Line. From Kintetsu Nara Station, it is a 15 min walk.
1. Kuzu Mochi
Photo via tasteatlas
Kuzu Mochi is a dessert distinctive to Nara. The mochi is unique, as it combines kuzu (Japanese arrowroot) plant starch and water to be created, instead of the usual rice to make mochi. This dessert is chewy, and usually eaten with molasses. Although, Kuzu mochi isn’t very sweet. Therefore, in order to enhance its sweetness, brown sugar syrup and toasted soybean flour is added.
A lovely place to enjoy Kuzu Mochi is Nakai Shunpudo. Once you order, head to the kitchen window and feel free to watch how the Kuzu mochi is made. The chefs also explain the steps involved in making it. It is quite amusing to see the kudzu starch transforming into jelly.
Nakai Shunpudo information
【Official website】Click here
【Address】545 Yoshinoyama, Yoshino, Yoshino District, Nara 639-3115, Japan
【Opening hours】10am-5pm. Closed on Wednesday.
【Access】A 10 min walk from Ropeway Yoshinoyama Station.
2. Nakatanidou (Mochi shop)
Photo via TomatoKumato
Mochi is a soft and chewy rice cake which can be found all throughout Japan. So, you’re probably wondering what makes the one in Nara any different? You have probably come across a viral video of this place, but just wasn’t sure where it is from. Well, let me introduce you to Nakatanidou. Here, you can meet Nara’s fastest mochi makers and watch the mochi-pounding process. As well as, taste unbelievably fresh, warm and delicious yomogi mochi! These are green in colour and made from Japanese mugwort. The filling also consists of sweet red bean paste and the outside is dusted in roasted soybean flour.
At this store, they use the Japanese traditional way of making mochi known as the mochitsuki pounding method. Basically, workers use their hands and the wooden hammer at a crazy fast speed to hit and pound the sticky rice until it turns into smooth mochi. In order to stay in perfect coordination, they shout to keep to the beat.
【Official website】Click here
【Address】29 Hashimotocho, Nara, 630-8217
【Opening hours】 10AM – 7PM
Mochi pounding: every 30 mins.
【Access】A short walk from JR Nara and Kintetsu Nara stations.
3. Yamato-cha Soft-Serve Ice Cream (Cafe Etranger Narad)
Photo via spot Japan
Nara is known for their local Yamato-cha green tea and their adorable deers. Cafe Etranger Narad combines these two Nara gems together, serving up the cutest Instagram worthy ice cream dessert. As the Japanese would say, so kawaii! Their menu consists of desserts with the majority having a cute handmade deer biscuit which makes this place even more special. Their signature dessert is the plump swirl green tea soft serve, with a deer biscuit on the side. Also, paired with a waffle cone covered in chocolate and candy. It is not only pretty but tastes without a doubt, just as good as it looks!
Cafe Etranger Narad information
4. House Kibaco Kakigori Cafe (Shaved ice)
Photo via Lindagoeseast
Kakigori is Japanese-style shaved ice flavoured with a tasty sweet syrup. This dessert is generally located throughout Japan. But if you are coming to Nara, House Kibaco cafe is a popular place to be! With a wonderful range of flavours to choose from, it will be challenging to stick to just one. Not to mention, their Kakigori is finely made and presented beautifully. In addition, they have an English menu. Many items on the menu include their signature flavoured foams or espuma foam.
The yoghurt espuma foam complements the flavours well such as the no.1 picks blue butterfly pea or citrus. For first-timers, try their classics like matcha milk or kiwi yogurt kakigori. Also, they offer limited flavours to match the season, such as in autumn, plum or persimmon or in spring, a cherry blossom flavour. What makes this place even more memorable is how aesthetically pleasing it is to the eyes! So, don’t miss stopping by for a refreshing treat.
House Kibaco Kakigori Cafe information
【Official website】click here (Facebook)
【Address】47 Mochiidonocho, Nara, 630-8222
【Opening hours】 10:00am – 5:00pm. Closed Thursdays. Weekends: 10:00am-5:30pm.
【Access】From Kintetsu Nara Station, around 8 min walk.
When you visit Nara, something you cannot forget to do is indulge in their wonderful local foods and dessert! Trust me, after you try what they have to offer, it will make you even more head over heels for Nara. So from our list, have you thought about which Nara dish makes you the most excited to try? After all, these places are equally worth a visit!