When you think of Niigata, the first things that may come to mind are rice and sake, and rightly so for the most part; koshihikari is eponymous of delicious rice, and you’ll find no shortage of Uonuma Koshihikari imitators on the market. Niigata also has an excellent reputation for Japanese liquor; “Niigata Sake no Jin,” an annual event where over 90 wineries around the prefecture open their cellars to the public, attracts 100,000 sake aficionados a year. Many people are familiar with Niigata’s reputation for fine rice and even finer sake, but the prefecture is home to even more delicious things you may not know about. Today, we’ll introduce you to some of the hidden gems of fine dining in Niigata.
1. First, the fresh seafood of Teradomari!
Niigata is home to a long shoreline that stretches from the north to the south, and its position on the sea of Japan makes it perfect for harvesting all sorts of marine life. Sure, you could eat your fill of fresh seafood at the various restaurants in the area, but if you want the full tourist experience, why not stop by Teradomari’s “Sakana no Ame-yoko” for a bite to eat? You’ll find each of the local fisheries lined up wall-to-wall in this marketplace, where you can not only purchase fish, but the shops will prepare it for you to snack on right on the spot. Their most popular offerings are fish, shellfish, squid, or nerimono (foods made from minced and pressed fish), cooked up on a skewer or broiled over an open flame. As you walk through the market, the smell of cooking fish is sure to get you salivating. In addition to these grilling stalls, there are also plenty of places that will serve food and drink in the area, and you can even have your fish shipped all across Japan if you’d like. This spot is famous among the locals who frequent it for holiday events like o-shogatsu (New Year’s) and for barbecuing.
2. Fill yourself up on fruits!
It’s a lesser-known fact that Niigata is kind of a fruit mecca, famous for its Le Lectier variety of pear, naturally, but its bounty is far more plentiful than just that. Niigata boasts some of the highest yield of persimmon and watermelon in the country, and Shirone in particular is known for its peach, grape, strawberry, and Japanese pear yields. So why not go fruit picking and snack on the ‘fruits’ of your labors while you’re at it? Plenty of places in this prefecture allow you to go fruit-picking on your own, but Shirone Grape Garden boasts the largest variety of any of them by far. There are grapes aplenty, as the name might suggest, but you can also enjoy all kinds of different fruits all year ’round. The garden also supplies a lave stone barbecue where you can stretch out your own dough and make a fruit pizza with the fruits you’ve gathered. The garden is also home to goats and other animals, which makes it popular among kids. Did we mention the gelato? It’s some of the best you’ll find in the prefecture!
3. Niigata’s Famous “Italian food”!
Lastly we’ll take a look at the b-class gourmet star of Niigata, “Italian food.” Let’s get straight to the point: It’s yakisoba covered in meat sauce! There are two particularly famous chain restaurants in the prefecture, ‘Mikazuki’ in the north, and ‘Friend’ in the central region. We could try and explain the taste to you, but honestly, you’ll just have to try it for yourself. This it what the people of the prefecture fondly call soul food and is loved by men and women of all ages, so we definitely recommend you give it a try.
The Niigata prefecture is rich with the bounty of edibles, packed with tons of charming and delicious shops that you won’t find in any guidebook. There’s not enough time in the day to eat and drink at them all, so go out there, try something new, and find your own little hidden treasure here in Niigata.
This post is also available in: Japanese