When it is time to move on from the food tour of Sendai’s science lab, you’ll find that the entire Miyagi prefecture is plenty full of fine cuisine. With autumn present and winter arriving fast, there is no better place to be than the areas that are known for the perfect rice bowl, seafood, and all around comfort food when the evening chill gets you shivering.
Once you've entered Japan, you must try the amazing seafood. Transfer onto the Ishinomaki Line and journey out to the small town of Onagawa. The town isn’t known for much beyond the disaster it faced during the Great 2011 Earthquake and being in charge of a ferry to Kinkasen Island. However, the town celebrates the sanma fish (mackerel pike) more than any other! This thin, but long fish is a white meat (like most fish along the Miyagi coast) that migrates between Hokkaido and east coastline facing the Pacific Ocean. The town loves sanma so much that it even has its own theme song which I am unfortunately forced to hear every Tuesday and Friday when my third grade class has music practice. On top of which, in late September the town hosts the Sanma Festival, in which every restaurant both local and neighboring towns set up their own food stand selling sanma cooked every possible way. Grilled, fried, baked into a sasa kamaboko, served as sashimi, etc.
With most of Miyagi’s major towns and cities along the coast, seafood is a stable and signature dish in just about every town. Onagawa isn’t the only town that celebrates one in particular. The beautiful coastal town of Matsushima is home to over 200 tiny islands, making it a popular spot for not only Miyagi natives, but for people all over Japan as a summer destination to escape the heat. Especially during the colder months, the town is known for its all-you-can-eat oyster restaurants. For just 2000 yen, customers can enjoy a 40 minute stay at the Yakigaki House and enjoy as many fried oysters as they can stuff into their stomachs. Forty minutes doesn’t sound like much time, but with the staff’s hired assistants helping you de-shell and cook everything right in front of you, most people are able to eat sometimes as much as 60 oysters in a single sitting! Be sure to go at the start of February to stay for the Oyster Festival which at times can be so popular that you can get grilled oysters and soup for free from the right vendor if your patient enough with the heavy crowds. Don’t forget to enjoy a delicious kaki-don (oyster rice bowl) before you leave. Just about every restaurant uses their own special recipe.
Tome City Aburafu Donburi
Further north in Tome City, is the home of a popular dish for those wanting to get away from all the seafood and meat heavy dishes. Aburafu is deep fried wheat gluten simmered in fish broth. It is mixed with a multitude of vegetables such as leeks, green onion, ginger, and then topped with egg. The idea of deep fried gluten doesn’t sound perfectly appetizing to most, but it is actually low in fat and incredibly tasty. It’s another dish best for those freezing evenings when you’re curled up under the kotatsu.
South of Sendai, along the eastern Miyagi coast is the town of Watari. Like Onagawa, the town isn’t known for very much beyond its beaches, making it a popular vacation spot. It’s also home to an onsen resort, Onsen Tori no Umi. A specialty dish that comes from Watari is harakomeshi, a salmon rice bowl sprinkled with salmon roe (caviar). Not only in Watari (especially during autumn), the dish is so popular that shops at Sendai station often switch out their pre-made bento to feature harakomeshi, it sometimes even outsells the famous beef tongue. While it is sold year-round, it is considered most suitable during September–early December. Afterwards, most restaurants alter it to make it more suitable for winter weather by adding clam meat to it.
Way out at the end of the Senseki Line is Ishinomaki, home of the famous Ishinomori Manga Museum and the ferry to Cat Island. Not only is it famous for tourist attractions, the city and its neighboring areas (Matsushima, Onagawa, etc.) are some of the only places in the country that do something a little different with a common dish. Yakisoba is stir-fried noodles, usually with meat and veggies buried underneath its savory strings. Sounds simple right?
If there isn’t that much of a difference compared to udon or spaghetti, except the noodle type is primarily determined by the kind of flour used. Well, as it turns out soba is already less sticky than other noodles. Ishinomaki yakisoba is actually cooked twice before finally fried. As a result, it is able to absorb more flavor from spices and broth when cooked! Dieting and wanting to cut calories and carbs, but enjoy pasta too much? Try soba. You’ll be happy.
What’s more, if you make it yourself then you can save the water used to boil the noodle in and turn it into a broth. While soba is healthy on its own, plenty of its own nutrients leave off from the noodle when it’s boiled. Get it back!