Web Japan > Trends in Japan > Lifestyle > B-Grade Cuisine Gets an "A" for Taste

B-Grade Cuisine Gets an "A" for Taste

Local Dishes Become National Hits


Yokote yakisoba

Enlarge photo

Home-style dishes previously known only to people in particular regions of Japan are increasingly finding favor nationwide. These "B-grade" local specialties, as they are known, include dishes that were until recently popular within such a narrow geographic area that even people living in the next town had never heard of them. What all B-grade local cuisine has in common is that it is tasty, filling, and reasonably priced. Various events are now being organized to harness these dishes as a means of revitalizing local communities.

Winning Noodles

B-grade dishes tend to be less well known but more accessible than so-called fine cuisine. Some dishes are made from unusual ingredients or have distinctive tastes that surprise first-timers, but many have been immediate hits, eliciting widespread praise and becoming explosively popular all over Japan. Here we present just a few of the countless dishes available.

In 2009 the fourth B-1 Grand Prix was held in Yokote City in Akita Prefecture. The event, which was launched with the aim of revitalizing local communities by making use of B-grade cuisine, lets visitors try out a range of local dishes and choose which they like the best. The name B-1 Grand Prix is a play on words combining the letter "B," indicating something of secondary rank, and K-1 Grand Prix, a famous martial arts championship. The original offerings at the B-1 Grand Prix have proved to be a huge draw, and the popularity of the event has skyrocketed, with the visitor numbers shooting up from 17,000 in 2006 to 267,000 over the two days of the 2009 event.


Hachinohe senbei-jiru

Enlarge photo

A total of 26 dishes competed in the 2009 contest. The winner was a dish called Yokote yakisoba (fried noodles) from the host city itself. Yakisoba is eaten throughout Japan, but the Yokote variety is different in that it features noodles that are straight, thick, and boiled (rather than steamed), has cabbage and ground pork as its main other ingredients, is topped with a fried egg, and comes with sweet, crunchy pickles called fukujin-zuke on the side. The sauce used to flavor the noodles is a combination of Worcestershire sauce with a fish or other broth. Many established restaurants in Yokote have their own secret sauce recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Yokote yakisoba was first produced in 1953, the creation of a local restaurant that specialized in okonomiyaki (thick, savory cabbage pancakes). Though originally designed to be a children's snack, the noodles caught on and soon came to be served as a regular main dish. Four restaurants were chosen as the Yokote yakisoba champions for 2009 in a competition in which the judges considered such criteria as how the noodles were fried and the balance between the noodles and sauce. Two of the four, Kuidoraku Yokote Ekimae Shiten and Idehaya, are conveniently located near Yokote Station.

Rice Cracker Hot PotHachinohe senbei-jiru (cracker broth), a specialty of Hachinohe City in Aomori Prefecture, has been voted runner-up in the B-1 Grand Prix for three consecutive years. White senbei (crackers), which are made from wheat rather than the usual rice, are broken up and added to a broth containing meat, fish, mushrooms, and other ingredients and seasoned with soy sauce, salt, or miso. The hot pot is ready to be served when the crackers have absorbed the broth but still have a chewy texture.

Hachinohe's hot pot originated about 200 years ago and is a specialty of southern Aomori Prefecture and northern Iwate Prefecture. The most popular variety, made with chicken and soy sauce, is served at Katei Ryori no Wagaya, a restaurant whose name literally means "our house of home cooking." Another restaurant, Saba no Eki ("mackerel station"), which serves hot pots made from mackerel broth and salt, has earned the seal of approval of the Hachinohe Senbei-jiru Research Center, a citizens' group that seeks to make the hot pot known throughout the country.


Atsugi shirokoro horumon

Enlarge photo

A Deliciously Long ListThe winner of the 2008 B-1 Grand Prix was Atsugi shirokoro - grilled pork intestines from the city of Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture. Because it is home to one of the biggest meat-processing plants in the country, pork meat and entrails are in plentiful supply in Atsugi. The intestines are grilled and eaten in their original tubular shape after being dipped in a miso-based or other sauce. As the fat lining the inside cooks, the intestines plump up - hence the name shirokoro, which means "white nubs." The Atsugi Shirokoro Horumon Explorers, a group established with the aim of revitalizing the city by promoting local cuisine, recommends Chiyono, a restaurant serving shirokoro with its special garlic-flavored miso sauce. Oni no Ie is also considered a good choice, thanks to the variety of dishes and generous portions.

Other noteworthy B-grade dishes include Fujinomiya yakisoba from Shizuoka Prefecture, which was a runner-up in the first and second years of the B-1 Grand Prix; Utsunomiya gyoza dumplings from Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture; and Shizuoka oden, a dish involving stewing various ingredients in broth, including black fish cakes. There are also many ramen, okonomiyaki, and curry dishes that are famous around Japan and are considered B-grade cuisine. These hearty local dishes are an important part of Japan's culinary culture and should not be missed by visitors. (January 2010)

Page Top

Related Articles