Translated by GonzalezLaura
Getting To Know The No.1 Italian Dish In Niigata
When one says "Italian", you would think about pasta or pizza, right? We are talking about Niigata's Italian, a popular noodle dish that has been a long time favorite of Niigata locals. Taste the Niigata Italian at Mikazuki, a specialty restaurant.
Written by MICKEY MITSUMOTO
Do you know Niigata prefecture?
Niigata is located approximately 300 kilometers north of Tokyo and it is facing the Sea of Japan. During summer it hosts Japan's largest music festival, the Fuji Rock Festival, while in winter it is bustling with people who want to go skiing and riding the snowboard. There is also an increasing number of foreign visitors stopping by Sado island, which was once famous for being a gold mining island.
The famous local foods are rice, Japanese sake and fish from the Sea of Japan. Recently though, Italian has also been put on the spotlight.
What Exactly Is Niigata's Local "Italian" Food?
Although most people tend to think "Italian is pasta or pizza", in Niigata things are a little bit different. In Niigata, Italian actually means yakisoba noodles(*1) with meat sauce.
While there are still many people in Japan who don't know about this, if you look up Italian on Google (Japan), next to "Did you mean" Italian cooking you'll get Niigata Italian (as of October 2015).
In this article we will introduce this Italian dish, featuring Mikazuki, a restaurant that has a menu centered on Italian dishes.
Mikazuki is a major Italian company with over 20 branches all around the prefecture. Also, it seems that Mikazuki's owner is the one to have come up with Italian in the first place.
Around 1959, the owner encountered a type of yakisoba during his business trip in Tokyo which became the inspiration for his signature dish. The yakisoba began to take on an more "Italian spaghetti" image, and eating Italian with a fork became the norm. This new style of fast food was added to Mikazuki's menu in 1960, and has then spread all over Niigata. By the way, for the author of this article, a Niigata native, the first fast food ever was not McDonald's, but rather Mikazuki.
※1…Yakisoba: Chinese noodles covered in a special sauce and fried with different ingredients. It is a popular B-kyū gurume, the so called Japanese food for the masses.
How To Get To The Italian Specialty Restaurant, Mikazuki
Let's try reaching Mikazuki.
Taking either a direct flight to Niigata, or taking the bullet train from Tokyo on the Jōetsu Line are both convenient ways to get to Niigata. You can get to Niigata from Tokyo in around 2 hours.
Once you get out of Niigata station from the Bandai-guchi Exit, keep walking on the road strait ahead for about 10 minutes and you'll come across a shopping center called Lovela Bandai (ラブラ万代). If you take a right at the Lovela Bandai, you will reach a rainbow-colored tower called Rainbow Tower.
At the base of the Rainbow Tower is a Starbucks Coffee store.
Please go up the escalators located to the right of the coffee shop.
Once you reach the second floor, you will immediately see Mikazuki's Bandai store.
The store is bustling with families, their children, as well as middle and high school girls. In Niigata, you can eat Italian in the store, but there are also several places where you can take out your order, and eat it outside or in the comfort of your own home. This only shows how much Niigata locals love this dish.
There's probably plenty of people from Niigata that recall gathering together with friends and family and having some Italian.
Behind the counter there is a sign which states in English "Italian is not yakisoba, it's Italian!". Italian is a staple food in Niigata, that has gained its own place in the food world.
Let's Try Out This Italian Dish!
This is the standard Italian dish (330 yen). The noodles are cooked the same as for yakisoba, with cabbage and bean sprouts, but flavored with meat sauce.
It's not Italian, nor yakisoba; as the sign behind the counter states, "Italian is Italian". The dish is not very salty, which helps bringing out the sweet, acidic flavor of the tomato. It's a really comforting delicious taste.
The next standard item on the menu after Italian, is the Curry-style Italian (430 yen). As the name suggests, the noodles are covered in curry sauce instead of meat sauce.
Other sauces include white sauce, chili shrimp sauce, mābō dōfu (spicy Sichuan tōfu) sauce, all of which are limited time only flavors. There are also various toppings you can get, such as cheese and fried chicken, so you can enjoy various types of Italian each time you go.
If you ever find yourself in Niigata, you should definitely stop by Mikazuki and try some of its specialties.
Mikazuki Bandai Store
Address: Niigata, Chūō-ku, 1-6-1 Bandai, Bus Center Building 2F
Hours: 10:00 - 20:00
Closed: January 1st
Wi-Fi Available: N/A
Credit Cards Available: N/A
Multi-lingual Support: N/A
Multi-lingual Menu Available: N/A
Nearest Station: Niigata Station
Access: 10-minute walk from the JR Niigata Station (JR新潟駅) Bandai-guchi Exit (万代口)
Price Range: up to 999 yen
Official Website: Mikazuki Bandai Shop (Japanese)