On a week-long trip around Yamagata Prefecture, I found myself falling in love with the countryside, the quiet but impressive temples and shrines, the kindness of the people and, of course, the food! These are just a few things worth trying when out and about in Yamagata Prefecture. A calm area with few tourists, but many gems to see... and eat!
Definitely Yamagata's most famous speciality, these little balls of konnyaku (from the konjac plant) can be found in many places all over the prefecture, sold from in bags in the supermarkets ready to pack and take home to pots on the side of the street waiting for you to stop and for a snack! If you're taking a day trip to Yamadera you'll almost certainly find some to try. (Image from Ropross)
Soba is the speciality of Tendo city, but it has spread to other cities in the area like the capital and Yamadera as well. Eating soba in Yamagata is practically a must! While the plain noodles are technically their speciality, eventually I ended up trying nameko soba instead, the mushrooms just looked too nice!
Yamagata is a rural area and so is filled with farms, orchards and fields. While they have many different fruits, what they are most known for is their local cherries! I was lucky enough to visit at the end of June, the end of cherry-picking season, and the shops were full of them. I decided to pick up a box when I left from one of the many farmers' cherry stalls in Yamagata station, but I was given a box as a gift during my stay instead! I definitely understand where they get their reputation from, as they were some of the best cherries I've ever eaten. It would come to no surprise then to know that Yamagata has many snacks that include cheery flavour, perhaps the most famous one being noshi ume, pictured below, a bit like solid jam (I brought some home and my mother loved it), but there are also cherry milk cakes, cherry toppings, cherry cakes...
Tsukemono are the name for pickled vegetables. Many different types, usually a side dish in restaurants. Because, as mentioned, Yamagata is generally a rural area, the vegetables are fresh and local!
Great for a summer day, in Yamagata they took the cold ramen broth a step further and added ice to it! If you look closely in the image below, you'll be able to see ice cubes on the side of the bowl. This is common in Yamagata city, but there are a few restaurants in other places in the area.
Zunda isn't a Yamagata specific food, it can be found all over southern Tohoku in neighbouring prefectures too. However, it's still a speciality of the region as a whole, so worth a try when going up north! Zunda are sweet edamame, a type of beans, and they coat the mochi, rice cakes, with them. Quite a strong taste but stil very nice, I tried it a few time on my trip. Well, I talked quite a bit about the eastern side of the prefecture, so I have to at least mention the Shonai Plain at the other side of the mountains before finishing this!
Dadachamame is a kind of edamame, local to Yamagata Prefecture, specifically around Tsuruoka city. I tend to think of manjû as something halfway between a mochi and bread; the shape and filling like mochi but a drier texture a bit like pastry. Definitely look out for dadachamame だだちゃ豆 filled sweets when close to Tsuruoka. The photo below is what I found in a gift shop in Sakata city, next to Tsuruoka, these specifically are "Oshin dadachamame manju". Oshin is a character from a very famous TV series in Japan (by the same name) who grew up in Yamagata Prefecture! Do you think I forgot anything on the list? Add them in the comments!