Located in central Japan in the Kansai region of Honshu is Mie prefecture, known for natural attractions, high-grade cuisine and Shinto holy sites. Geographically, Mie has a long and vertical shape and influences from the neighboring prefectures have shaped its huge variety of foods. Each city has its own signature dishes to try. From seafood to hearty meat dishes and Japanese wagashi (traditional sweets), let’s explore Mie and try each area’s local foods.
Spiny Lobsters (Ise Ebi)
Mie’s treasure from the sea is the Spiny Lobster, known in Japan as Ise Ebi. The lobster is named after Ise Bay, a popular spot for Ise Ebi fishing. If you go sightseeing in Mie, stop by a seafood restaurant or market and enjoy a grilled Ise Ebi with its shell on. Grilling the lobster and dipping it with an accompanying sauce is highly recommended because you can fully savor the unique taste and aroma of this ocean treat. Or, if you want to eat the local way, have it as freshly caught sashimi and you can taste the tenderness and sweetness of its meat.
Ise Ebi is a popular winter food and the best time to enjoy it is from October to April which is also the fishing season.
One of Japan’s top three wagyu beef brands is the Matsusaka Beef, a brand of cattle raised in Matsusaka City in the outskirts of Mie prefecture. The meat of Japanese black cattle has a high-fat to meat ratio, making it famous for its heavy marbling, rich flavor, and tenderness. Once eaten, you can feel a melting sensation, coming from the unsaturated fatty acids of the beef which is healthy and higher in quality than the typical Japanese wagyu beef.
Many restaurants offer Matsusaka beef dishes such as sukiyaki (hotpot), where the flavor of the beef is enhanced through cooking lightly in the sweet and savory, sukiyaki sauce. You can also try shabu shabu hot pots or rice bowls and the highly recommended, rare steak.
Ise Udon is Mie’s prefectural twist on the classic udon. It is characterized by extra-thick noodles that are boiled for a longer period of time resulting in chewy and soft noodles. Unlike the standard udon, Ise udon has a low amount of flavorful broth that acts as a sweet soy-based dipping sauce to the noodles. It is topped with sliced green onions as well, adding a refreshing flavor to the dish.
It is believed that this dish is created for tired travelers who came from far places to visit Ise Grand Shrine. The noodles are easily digested which the locals created for the travelers, so if you happen to visit this sacred Shinto shrine, don’t forget to sample this regional specialty.
Have you ever seen extra-large gyoza dumplings? If not, you’ve got to visit Tsu City, the capital of Mie Prefecture.
Tsu gyoza was once an elementary school lunch invented by the nutritionists from the Tsu City Board of Education and slowly evolved into everybody’s favorite potstickers found in restaurants. The giant gyoza is made with minced meat, wrapped in a 15-centimeter wide wrapper, and deep-fried in oil. The crunchy texture of the gyoza wrapper and the juicy meat inside will have your mouth watering! And they don’t just come with meat fillings but many different ingredients that are also worth trying.
Exclusive to Ise City, Akafuku wagashi is a staple when visiting Ise Grand Shrine. These traditional sweets are unique to Mie and cannot be found elsewhere in Japan. Each bite-size rice cake is covered in smooth red bean paste. The three lines on the surface of the bean paste represent the flow of the Isuzu River and the white mochi beneath represents the pebbles from the river bed.
Akafuku wagashi is a great souvenir because of its amazing craftsmanship and classic flavor. However, they have a short shelf-life. Be sure to eat them within two days from purchase.
Mie is indeed a beautiful coastal oasis worth visiting. Its cuisine reflects the preservation of its high-quality ingredients found throughout the prefecture. So, if you’re planning to visit Japan in the future, include Mie in your list of places to visit and try these wonderful regional foods!
Featuring photo credit: wikimedia