Sample the prefecture’s culinary delights at the Tabisuru Shintora Market in Tokyo.
Niigata has abundant natural resources, especially clear water and fertile land, making it the number one region for production of koshihikari rice, and one of the top producers of sake, edamame and a variety of mushrooms. So, it comes as no surprise that it’s also a foodie’s paradise, with many local specialties you won’t find anywhere else. To get a taste of Niigata without a pricey train ticket, drop by the Tabisuru Shintora Market in Tokyo to find rural fare that’ll make your mouth water. The four stands, which you can find just outside Toranomon Hills, each have their own distinctive menus, offering a range of delectable delights for the adventurous gourmet. Here’s a quick guide to the five different Niigata cities that are showcasing their cuisine until the end of September.
Tokamachi: Artful Delicacies
Tokamachi’s artistic tendencies aren’t reserved for their triennial outdoor art festival, they’re also present in the city’s food culture. Hegi soba, a regional specialty, is named for the hegi dish it’s served on. The noodles are made using funori seaweed, giving them a distinctively smooth yet firm texture. They are placed delicately on the hegi dish in bite size portions, making them a breeze to pick up and slurp down. Locally raised Tsumari pork has a natural sweetness that is enhanced when served with salt, green onions and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Pair either dish with a locally produced dry, crisp sake.
Sanjo and Tsubame: Spice It Up
Metalworking regions Sanjo and Tsubame are known for their hearty meals meant to feed hardworking craftsmen. As such, this stand’s lunch options are guaranteed to give you the energy to power through the rest of your day. The Kouba Bento changes weekly, giving guests the chance to find a new favorite. The seabura (back fat) ramen, despite its name, has a surprisingly delicate and light flavored soup to balance out its coarsely chopped noodles. For dinner, Sanjo-grown turmeric takes center stage with appearances in spicy chicken wings and a spicy cheese gratin. More robust fare, like black pork gyoza and kurumafu (a wheat gluten and flour dish), are well-matched with the local craft beers available. Among the offerings are pilsners from Echigo Beer, Japan’s first microbrewery, and Niigata Beer pale ales.
Nagaoka: An Explosion of Flavors
Nagaoka city is known for Tochio aburaage, a deep-fried tofu pouch that can be up to three times the size of traditional aburaage. For lunch, try the jumbo aburaage in the Tochio Aburaage Don, which comes with a side of miso soup and pickled vegetables. The Nagaoka Bento offers a variety of smaller dishes for those looking for a true taste of the region. The dinner menu boasts a selection of lighter fare, including edamame served in a firework shell, which is available in three different sizes. The stand also has an extensive selection of 16 different types of sake, offering sake lovers a chance to taste some of Niigata’s finest brews.
Murakami: Seasoned Servings
Visit the castle town of Murakami in winter and you’ll be met with rows of salmon hanging from rooftops across town. The area’s specialty, shiobiki dried salmon, finds its place in an aged shiobiki dried salmon bento in this stand’s lunch menu, alongside Murakami’s other mainstay, Murakami beef. The beef bento is served on a bed of soft and chewy koshihikari rice from Iwafune. For dinner, try beef-on-a-stick, or a shiobiki salmon packet cooked in oil with shiitake mushrooms. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a soft serve ice cream mixed with green tea powder and garnished with nuts, honey and a dash of salt.
Niigata Specialties Available for a Limited Time
For a flavorful feast, make the Tabisuru Shintora Market a must-visit this month as it’ll be your last chance to try these sumptuous Niigata specialties so close to home. From October, a new set of cities will showcase their wares and dishes at the market, but until then, Niigata cuisine and beverages are yours for the taking. Accompanying the stands and their appetizing eats is the Tabisuru store, with selected offerings, and the Tabisuru café that serves dishes made with Niigata-sourced, seasonal ingredients.
Tabisuru Shintora Market: Jul 5-Sep 29
Shop and café: Jul 5-Oct 1
Address: 2-16 Nishi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku