When people ask us what food we personally like best in Okayama, we can’t help but say “Sawara!” (Spanish mackerel), “Ebimeshi!” (Shrimp fried rice), or “Tama no Ontamameshi!” ( Fried rice with eggs from hot springs). Perhaps you have never heard of them before, but we assure you they’re all very delicious, so please check them out sometime.
The name of this fish is written with the characters for “fish” and “spring” together, as if to denote its season, but the ones currently being sold at fish markets and supermarkets are quite often imported from Korea. To the contrary, here in Okayama we fish them straight from the Seto Inland Sea, meaning we can make fresh dishes unthinkable in any other province.
We are fairly certain that Okayama is the only place in all of Japan where you can enjoy sashimi made from sawara fish freshly caught from the sea. Due to the nature of sawara flesh being very delicate and prone to breaking apart, it tends to rot rather quickly. Its color is also dimmer than that of other white-flesh fish, however its flavor has a certain deepness and substance to it, giving it quality. It is delicious either as pressed sushi, wrapped in kombu seaweed, or pickled in tea.
Another typical fish of the Okayama sea is “mamakari”, or sardinella zushi. There is a special type of sushi called “bara sushi”, made from mamakari or sawara fish alongside eggs and other ingredients, made in the style of chirashi sushi, basically sushi scattered and presented in a bowl. It is very delicious.
Ebimeshi is a type of fried rice, garnished with sauce and with shrimp in it. The main ingredients are rice, shrimp and ebimeshi source, (which is generally ketchup and caramel source, though each store has its own secret recipe, which may vary greatly, and trying and comparing the sauces of different store is also part of the fun.) , fried together. Thin threads of eggs, called kinshi-tamago, are added on top as topping, creating a beautiful and appetizing color. The lightly spicy taste of the rice mixes wonderfully with the sweetness of the egg. This dish is often served in Western restaurants and public kitchens, however they are also served in some traditional and ramen restaurants, with each store putting in their own unique take on the recipe. Please try to check it out in as many restaurants as you can.
3. Tama no Ontamameshi
Tama no Ontamameshi is fried rice cooked with conger eel, with a topping of thick eggs boiled in a hot spring. The smell of soy sauce and the tare sauce used in the process of roasting the eels, called “kabayaki”, are very inviting, but the main attraction is the conger eels from our Seto Inland Sea. Some people order this dish just for the richly fulfilling eel flesh generously mixed in with the rice. The tare sauce used during kabayaki helps to further bring out this innate deliciousness, and when the hot spring eggs is cracked and mixed with the rice, the slippery and sweet texture of them helps bring a balance to the whole dish, completing its flavor. And at the end, some people like to leave a bit of rice behind and mix it with some tea, in a tea-pickled style. The fatty taste of the eel, the perfect stickiness of the tea, and the kabayaki tare sauce combine to create a perfect three-pronged deliciousness.
So, did you enjoy our little trip? When you come to Okayama, please make sure to check out the three dishes we just introduced, won’t you?
This post is also available in: Japanese