Translated by Lester Somera
Just a Kansai guy trying to get by
This article will talk about Saitama Prefecture's gourmet items: grilled eel, sweetfish, soba, shaved ice, and more.
Saitama Prefecture 埼玉県, which adjoins northern Tōkyō, has a great number of interesting sightseeing spots. Since it is readily accessible from Tōkyō, many people come to visit.
Read also: Spots You Must Visit in Saitama Prefecture!
There are famous dishes and meals that can only be eaten here, and you can savor many finely-selected Saitama food items.
This time we will introduce Saitama’s gourmet scene.
When they hear “unagi,” most Japanese people probably think of Hamanako in Shizuoka Prefecture. However, Saitama Prefecture also has a long history with this dish. There are many well-established unagi restaurants in the prefecture, and of those restaurants, the places in Urawa City and Kawagoe City are particularly famous. Let’s take a closer look at the history of unagi in these areas.
In the Edo period, there was a great deal of swampland around the Urawa 浦和 district of Saitama City, so it was a fertile breeding ground for freshwater fish. For that reason, people came in droves to catch fish there, and the area thrived. The eels caught by those fishermen became renowned for their flavor, and this was the beginning of the "Unagi of Urawa", which brought so many visitors.
In front of Urawa Station, there is a statue with an eel motif, "Urawa Unako-chan". When you visit Urawa Station, stop by and take a look.
Eels could be eaten in Kawagoe 川越 starting around the Edo period. Because eating meat was prohibited, the koi carp, loaches, and eels which could be caught from the Irumagawa and Arakawa rivers served as precious protein sources for the people who lived in Kawagoe.
The special product used in preparing the eel was famous soy sauce. The notion of eel being delicious with soy sauce spread through Kawagoe, and now it is connected to Kawagoe’s unagi culture.
There are unagi restaurants which specialize in kabayaki style, where the eel is soaked in a salty-sweet sauce before cooking, and others which specialize in shirayaki style. Shirayaki unagi is grilled directly over the flame without receiving any seasoning, sauce or oil. You can enjoy the original taste and aroma of unagi; add just a bit of salt and wasabi before you dig in.
Chichibu City 秩父市, in the northern part of Saitama Prefecture, is famous for its sweetfish (ayu) dishes. The Aragawa River in Saitama spans 173 km, and runs from north to south throughout the entire prefecture. Because Chichibu is situated by the upper reaches of the river, the water is clean and there is a thriving sweetfish population in the area.
The food in the photo is sweetfish rice, made by cooking rice and grilled sweetfish together. The aromatic fragrance of the sweetfish permeates the rice in this popular dish.
Fried sweetfish is another enjoyable variation, with a crispy exterior and soft sweetfish flesh on the inside.
Since the Chichibu region is surrounded by mountains, there are large temperature variations within the day, and between summer and winter. This is the ideal environment for growing high-quality buckwheat to make into soba noodles. Thanks to this environment—unique to Chichibu—and to the fresh water of the Arakawa River, the soba dishes made here are superb.
In addition to sweetfish and soba noodles, the Chichibu region is famous for its shaved ice (kakigōri かき氷), which makes good use of the chill of winter and is made of frozen mountain spring water. That is why it is rich in mineral content, with a mellow taste. We recommend you try the shaved ice by itself first, then drizzle on syrup little by little as you eat.
You can try differently-flavored syrups depending on the season, and they are all delicious. Some flavors you can try are mandarin orange, white peach, persimmon, strawberry, and grape.
Kawagoe City 川越市 in Saitama Prefecture is affectionately known as “the Little Edo, Kawagoe”(小江戸 川越). This nickname refers to its prosperity and its atmosphere, both of which evoke the Edo period. Even now, the townscape of Kawagoe retains its appearance from long ago, and visitors can experience its traditional aura.
Read also: Spots You Must Visit in Saitama Prefecture!
One would have to say that fukashi 麩菓子, sweets made from wheat bran, is Kawagoe’s popular gourmet item. Wheat bran is a processed foodstuff, with its primary ingredient being gluten—a protein component included in wheat flour. This is coated with black sugar, and the flavored result is called fukashi. At the street of sweets in Kawagoe, long fukashi are popular, and we recommend picking some up as souvenirs.
Experts in amezaiku 飴細工, or candy craft artistry, also do live performances on this street. If you get the chance to see these skillful candy-shaping techniques of these craftsmen up close, you are quite lucky. They will take requests for shapes that you would like them to make, as well. Naturally, amezaiku are edible, but you can also buy and take them home as memories.
A great many dining establishments are gathered at one location in the Ōmiya 大宮 district of Saitama City, known as the Minami Ginza Shōtengai 南銀座商店街. Close to the east exit of Ōmiya Station, if you duck underneath the arch that reads 南銀座 ("Minami Ginza"), you will find a street tightly packed on both sides with rows of yakitori restaurants, traditional Japanese restaurants, izakayas, ramen shops and the like. At night, Minami Ginza Shōtengai is crowded with visitors. Here, you can experience a unique atmosphere and sample various kinds of food from several different restaurants.
What do you think? There are plenty of delicious dishes in Saitama Prefecture. It is very accessible from Tōkyō, so why not come visit?