Ibaraki’s Best Culinary Experiences: 10 Must-Try Food and Drinks

Ibaraki’s Best Culinary Experiences: 10 Must-Try Food and Drinks

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Ibaraki’s Best Culinary Experiences: 10 Must-Try Food and Drinks” is the first in a series of posts about all the delights to be found north of Tokyo. (ICYMI: Ibaraki Prefecture went up from 47th to 42nd in this year’s ranking of Japan’s most  “attractive prefectures.” Source).  

Why does this matter to me? My in-laws are from Ibaraki. This means that their home will very likely be my second home in the not-too-distant future. After countless visits to my husband’s hometown Ibaraki Prefecture has definitely grown on me. And, especially after having a child, and with the current coronavirus pandemic, I really appreciate the open spaces and natural beauty of Ibaraki. 

If you think “Ibaraki Prefecture” and “culinary experiences” don’t go together, then I’m here to prove you wrong! When it comes to Ibaraki and foodie experiences, most people probably think of natto, the very divisive love-it-or-hate-it dish of fermented soybeans. ‘Tis a shame, really, because Ibaraki has lots of farmland and grows an incredible variety of crops. Read on to discover Ibaraki’s best culinary experiences: 10 must-try food and drinks from Tokyo’s northern neighbor.

Ibaraki’s Best Culinary Experiences: 10 Must-Try Food and Drinks

1. Chestnuts

 

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Chestnuts signal the arrival of autumn in Japan and from early September to mid-October you’ll find chestnuts from Kasama City make their way to supermarkets. The city is famous for its large and flavorful chestnuts, and in true Japanese fashion, there’s an annual festival to celebrate the harvest

Ibaraki grows most of Japan’s chestnuts, and has been doing so for almost 125 years! Boiled chestnuts are a classic, but have you ever tried rice prepared with chopped chestnuts? It’s a popular way to serve rice in autumn. You’ll also find Ibaraki chestnuts in traditional Japanese sweets and western-style sweets, too. Here are a few more simple autumn Japanese recipes.

2. Hitachi Beef

 

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Kobe beef has global recognition, but you can also find wagyu, or Japanese premium beef, in  Ibaraki Prefecture. You can eat it as steak, or thinly sliced and served for yakiniku, Korean-style barbeque. But, I personally recommend the Hitachi beef curry at Shiosai, the restaurant on the grounds of the U no Misaki resort. The beef is incredibly tender and melts in your mouth, while the spices in the curry take Japanese curry to a new level. (The sukiyaki is pretty good, too!)

3. Hitachino Nest Beer

 

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Hitachino Nest Beer is an award-winning craft beer brewed by Kiuchi Brewery with a large following in the US and UK. The brand’s best-selling Hitachino Nest White Ale,a according to Beer Connoisseur, has is “a refreshing mildly hopped Belgian styled beer with a complex flavor of coriander, orange peel, nutmeg.”

I first tried Hitachino Nest Beer this year, when I bought it at the gift shop inside Lapoppo Namegata Farmer’s Village. (Lapoppo Namegata Farmer’s Village by the way, is a theme park that’s all about sweet potatoes). I’m not a beer drinker, so I can’t give a proper critique. With that said, even a non-casual beer drinker like myself enjoyed Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Ale. It didn’t hold back on ginger and I wish I’d gotten more than one bottle!

The brewery is in Hitachi-konosu, Ibaraki, but they have a pub (Hitachino Brewing Mito) in Mito and Hitachino Brewing Lab opened up in Tokyo, too!

4. Melons (Honeydew Melons & Cantaloupe)

 

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Ibaraki is famous for its produce, especially fruits like grapes, apples, persimmons, and pears. But, it’s the melons that deserve your attention. We get them by the boxful every year and I can’t say enough about how good Ibaraki melons are! 

Despite Hokkaido melons being the talk of Japan (no doubt because of the annual Yubari melon auction), Ibaraki Prefecture is Japan’s number one producer of melons, and among the varieties grown there is the original “Ibaraking” crossbreed. Head to a farm in early summer to eat freshly picked melons on site or to try “melon soda” served in a hollowed-out melon. My favorite way to eat melons is quite indulgent, but here goes: cut a melon in half, scoop out the seeds and fill the center with a very generous serving of vanilla ice cream. 

5. Natto

 

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Ibaraki is Japan’s top producer of natto, so there’s no surprise that there’s even a natto musuem! Natto, as I previously introduced in my Japanese superfoods post, is rich in probiotics, protein, and is all around good for gut health. 

There are several stories that tell of how natto came about. But, most they usually involve steamed soybeans fermenting away after being wrapped in rice straw. This particular kind of natto was marketed as a delicacy from Mito, the capital of Ibaraki. (This was back during Japan’s Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century.) If you’re still not sold on the goodness of natto, try some natto-infused senbei or yokan when you’re in Ibaraki!

6. Nemophila “Baby Blue Eyes” Themed Drinks & Desserts

 

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The sprawling carpet of baby blue eyes that bloom every spring at Hitachi Seaside Park now has global recognition. It frequently makes it to the top of travel bucket lists. Yet, for all the vlogs, blogs, and articles about the park, I hardly ever see anything mentioned about the blue drinks and food. So, do yourself a favor next Golden Week and sip on a cup of blue tea, eat blue ice cream, and if you’re brave, try the blue curry! Read more about all the offerings in this post: See (and Taste) the Bloom of Nemophila at Hitachi Seaside Park

7. Sake 

 

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Ibaraki grows a lot of rice. It’s hardly surprising that they use some of it to make some good old fashioned rice wine AKA sake. You’ll find more than 40 sake breweries across Ibaraki, and Japan’s oldest sake brewery, Sudo Honke, is in Kasama City.  

I definitely recommend visiting a sake brewery if you haven’t. I did a tour of the award-winning Aiyu Sake Brewery in Itako City back in February, and it was honestly fascinating learning about how sake is made. (Not gonna lie, sampling sake was also nice, too!) Aiyu Sake Brewery also produces sake for Kashima Shrine, one of the oldest Shinto shrines in eastern Japan, so it’s definitely worth checking out for the history!

8. Saza Coffee

 

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I bet you didn’t expect coffee to be on a list of Ibaraki’s best culinary experiences! But, Saza Coffee is a beloved coffee shop that actually has its own coffee farm in Colombia. The story begins in 1942 in Hitachinaka City, with a 3-story wooden theatre, the largest in the northern Kanto region. 20 years later, it turned into a coffee shop, and Saza Coffee was born! 

“Saza,” by the way, comes from the phrase “saza kissa” (且座喫茶), a manner in which one sits and enjoys their tea. (Seems like the origins of “And that’s the tea”!) Saza Coffee strives to be a place where you can sit and enjoy “the tea”… and your coffee. You can find Saza Coffee in Tsukuba, Mito, and Hitachinaka cities, and they also have branches in Omiya, Shinagawa, Tokyo, Futago Tamagawa. if you can’t make it, you can always shop online

9. Seafood

 

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It’s seriously a shame that Ibaraki Prefecture is so underrated because it’s got 190km of uninterrupted coastline, plenty of beaches, and amazing seafood. And, If you think you can’t stomach raw fish, it’s probably because you’ve never had good seafood before. Just head to the Nakaminato Fish Market or Hitachi Fish Market and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Even the supermarket sashimi in Ibaraki tastes good!

There’s plenty of fish in the sea, but one fish I recommend is collagen-rich monkfish (anko), Ibaraki’s speciality. It’s a deep sea fish that’s not easy on the eyes, but it’s a local delicacy. You can try it as sashimi, but the locals like to eat it in nabe, a hot pot with loads of veggies, during the winter months.

10. Sweet Potato

 

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Kagoshima is actually Japan’s number one producer of sweet potatoes, but those are mainly for shochu. But, when it comes to the potatoes found in Japanese supermarkets, they’re grown in Ibaraki Prefecture. I mention a few ways to enjoy Japanese sweet potatoes in this post, but one Ibaraki sweet potato treat you must try is hoshiimo.

 

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90% of hoshiimo, or sweet potatoes dried and cut into strips, are produced in Ibaraki. They’re an excellent snacking treat that’s naturally sweet and free of artificial colors and flavoring. (Dangerously addictive, to be perfectly honest). They are also one of my daughter’s first foods!

Ready to taste Ibaraki’s best culinary experiences and rank them yourself? Here’s how to get there:

Ibaraki Transportation

Most of the major cities in Ibaraki are easily accessible from Tokyo and will only take 60-90 minutes depending on location. 

Bus

You can take a highway bus from the new Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (“Basta”) or the Tokyo Station Expressway Bus Terminal.

Car

If you’re heading by car, you’ll want to take the Joban Expressway (Don’t forget to stop at Tomobe and Moriya Service areas). 

Train

Major destinations are accessible via the Joban Line; Ueno-Tokyo Line; Tsukuba Express; Hitachi Limited Express

Plane

Ibaraki Airport is apparently the secondary airport for Tokyo and handles domestic flights to/from Kobe, Sapporo, Naha, and Fukuoka, as well as Shanghai, Xi’an, and Taipei. 

Ferry

Yes, Ibaraki is accessible by ferry! A 18 hour ferry trip links the coastal town of Oarai to the port of Tomakomai in Hokkaido. 

Ibaraki’s Best Culinary Experiences: 10 Must-Try Food and Drinks — Sources and Additional Reading

All information sourced from Ibaraki Shokusai  and Ibaraki Guide.

What’s next in the Ibaraki installment of The Travel Diaries? My top 10 cities to visit in Ibaraki Prefecture and amazing things to do. Until then, check out these previous Ibaraki Travel posts:

A Picture-Perfect Outing in Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture

What To Do In Hitachi and Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture

Ibaraki Road Trip: A Look At The Moriya and Tomobe Service Areas

Ibaraki with Kids: Pleasure Garden at Hitachi Seaside Park

See (and Taste) the Bloom of Nemophila at Hitachi Seaside Park


Ibaraki’s Best Culinary Experiences: 10 Must-Try Food and Drinks

 

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