Let’s just start with me telling you how much I love Nagoya meshi (Nagoya specialty food). Nagoya is often overlooked, but in my opinion I think this offers the best all around food in Japan. Osaka may have the title for tako/okonomiyaki, and yes Tokyo offers the most international spread, but I think Nagoya offers dishes that are simply unmatched.
Before I get into the list of my favorites, I need to fill you in on what Nagoya is famous for. Japanese food, although delicious, is traditionally very bland. Traditionally the subtle flavors are masterfully combined, giving the traditional dishes their elegance. However Nagoya-meshi uses a red miso base (hatcho-miso) giving many dishes a strong, unique, and soulful flavor. Nagoya’s food has that pop of flavor, that spice, and that extra umami that foreign palates crave.
However not all of the famous dishes contain this distinctive miso flavor! ‘Breakfast service’ is also an idea that originated in Nagoya. Here at local spots, such as the established Komeda’s Coffee or the newer chain Hoshino Coffee, will offer free toast and either egg or adzuki bean spread with any drink ordered before 11:00am.
Here is a list of some of my favorite dishes and restaurants including some you've heard of, some you haven’t, and some you have to try if travelling through Japan. Fear not—most, if not all, of these locations will have either English speaking staff or an English menu.
1. Miso Nikomi Udon
This is a flavorful take on the traditionally refined Udon. With a rich red miso broth, and your choice of protein this is sure to fill the stomach and satisfy your taste buds. I love to go to Yamamotoya because the restaurants have a great atmosphere and all you can eat tsukemono.
2. Miso Katsu
When you think of katsu, the immediate and obvious choice is Yabaton. As soon as you sit down you are greeted with fresh tea, and when your food is delivered the precious katsu sauce is poured directly on top of the dish. This restaurant has established itself outside of Nagoya as well with locations in Osaka, Fukuoka and Tokyo.
3. Taiwan/Miso Ramen
Photo: ayustety on FlickrNagoya is also famous for its spice! Fuji Ichiban Ramen is a local chain offering just the right amount of spice in the miso based broth. Looking for a challenge? Look no further than Misen Yaba. They have varying levels of spice, but some may not even get past the base. Order with caution.
4. Tebasaki Chicken Wings
Photo: katsuuu 44 on FlickrNagoya chicken wings are a must! They are made popular by many izakayas in Nagoya, but only one does it right: Yamachan. As with any popular place for beer and bar food it is often crowded late into the night with salarymen. The wings have a miso dry rub, and are served five at a time, and even have a certain way of being eaten.
5. Miso Curry
Probably my favorite meal when I need to fill up on food for cheap. Coco Ichiban is Nagoya’s premier curry restaurant, offering the special miso curry at differing spice levels. Here you can choose your spice level in the curry, the amount of rice and a wide variety of protein or vegetable options to top. The salads and sides are cheap and delicious too!
6. Maze Soba
This is a food that is only beginning to gain popularity, and is not even recognized as cuisine by the older Japanese generations. It is an untraditional type of soba (therefore giving it poor reviews amongst Japanese locals but raving reviews with foreigners) where the simple ingredients are mixed together and eaten like pasta. This is the only food I miss and crave when not in Nagoya. With only a few locations in Nagoya, Gin Bare GoGo is hard to find but well worth the effort. The easiest one to find is located right across from the Hilton Hotel in Fushimi. I cannot stress enough how much I love this meal.
7. Ogura Toast
This Nagoya specialty literally gets me out of bed in the morning. Order a coffee before 11am and receive a thickly sliced toasted with your choice of scrambled egg, hardboiled egg, or red bean paste as a topping for free. Komeda’s Coffee is the local favorite, and its diner-like feel can be found in locations all throughout Nagoya.
Photo: Haya_BS on Flickr