You can practically travel to any part of Japan and find regional sweets and delicacies specific to the area you are visiting. In fact one of the biggest draws for domestic tourists in Japan is the local cuisine and the chance to purchase and take some home. Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture is no exception, there are various foods and snacks produced throughout the area that give any trip to the region that little bit of extra flavor.
Glass Shrimp Cracker Factory
Senbei are a popular snack up and down Japan, with different regions producing their own unique version. Senbei are typically a type of cracker made from the dough of crushed rice, but there are also versions made from grain flour, these ones tend to be found in the northern regions of Japan, around Tohoku. Senbei have a distinct crunchy texture and are often lightly coated with flavoring like soy sauce, chili pepper or sugar.
Grilling Shrimp Senbei at Sasaraya
A selection of various Senbei at Sasaraya
The Glass Shrimp Cracker Factory is headquartered in the suburbs of Toyama City, they offer delicious hand-grilled Shrimp-senbei (similar to prawn crackers) made from 100% local rice, and a whole host of other sweets. Visitors can try their hand at cooking their own senbei using a large table-top open grill and a set of wooden tongs, after which they are free to add extra flavor by dipping them into either soy sauce or mixed salts.
Sampling Senbei at Sasaraya
Sasaraya also offer other snacks produced using only locally sourced seasonal ingredients like Ice Cream and grilled Dango. There is a café area with ample seating that looks out over the local rice fields, and a well-stocked shop selling all of the above a much more.
Inside the shop at Sasaraya
Gift ideas at Sasaraya
Kamaboko has been a popular food across Japan since its first production in the 14th century. It is made by forming various pureed fish into distinctive shapes, often loaves, which are then steamed until they are fully cooked and firm. Sliced Kamaboko is often used in soups, or in the broth of ramen dishes. It can also be eaten on its own with dipping sauces. Kamaboko is also often found in cuisine that is served at big celebratory events like weddings in Japan.
Toyama’s biggest and oldest producer of Kamaboko is Ume Kama, which is located in the east side of the city. They operate a shop as well as an open-factory where visitors can watch the process of making Kamaboko up-close. They also have a small museum with displays and videos (in both Japanese and English) explaining both the history of the food and Ume Kama.
Staff at the Ume Kama museum explain the history and culture of Kamaboko
Inside the open factory at Ume Kama
Traditionally Kamaboko was quite plain in appearance, often being solid white in colour, sometimes with an orange outer coating. In more recent times though producers have started get quite elaborate with their designs, creating a number of quirky versions that mark special occasions or represent a particular area. The open factory at U-mei kama allows visitors to see the creation of some of these designs up close.
Detail on the body of a fish made from Kamaboko at Ume Kama
The owner of Ume Kama proudly displays the Japanese word “Reiwa” made from Kamaboko
Toyama has long been associated as the region of Japan where one would go for their “Kampo”. Kampo is the study of traditional Chinese medicine in Japan, and it dates back some twelve hundred years. Since its introduction by the Chinese, Japan has developed their own unique system of diagnosis and therapy.
Ikeda Store in Toyama
Although traditionally Toyama was the place to go for your medicine, after the introduction of Western medicinal practices to Japan pharmacies and practitioners in Toyama slowly started to disappear. An excellent example of a long standing local business however is “Ikeda” in central Toyama City.
Ikeda Store in Toyama
Preparing medicine the traditional way
Ikeda have been providing Toyama locals with their medicines for the best part of a hundred years, since the 1930s, and they are still going strong today. They also have a museum of sorts inside the shop where you can see the presses and machinery that has been used for hundreds of years in Japan for preparing medicines.
But what does this have to do with local foods? Well, at Ikeda they not only sell natural medicines but also a host of teas, snacks and even lunchtime meals made up of ingredients prevalent in Kampo because of their health benefits.
Lunch is served, at Ikeda
Locally made ice cream and tea served at Ikeda
With 28 different types of tea on offer there’s plenty to choose from!
With lunch sets served daily between the hours of 11:30 – 14:00, and a selection of 28 different types of tea the café/restaurant on the second floor is well worth a visit. All ingredients are locally sourced and all play a role in keeping the body in tip top condition.
For those with a Sweet Tooth
No trip to anywhere in Japan is complete without a little something sweet to finish off the day! Sweet making in Japan is big business, and there is a large selection of traditional sweets to choose from. Two of the best places to swing by and smaple while in the Toyama area are “Shimakawa Ame” and “Tsukisekai Honpo”, both situated in the city.
Both places have a long history in the area, and unique in what they sell.
Shimakawa Ame have been making sweets in the area for generations. They use natural ingredients only, that are considered beneficial for ones health in one way or another - their humble beginnings were born out of the local Kampo industry explained above. They add no sugar to their sweets, which are all flavored naturally.
The owner at Shimakawa Ame displays her handmade cough sweets
Mizuame – One of the locals all time favorites at Shimakawa Ame
Tsukisekai is a modest sweet maker in central Toyama situated inside a small shop, they sell a variety of sweets but they are most famous for their staple rectangular shaped sweets made from egg, sugar and vegetable gelatin – a recipe that hasn’t changed for generations.
Tsukisekai is a simple yet tasty snack that reminds many Japanese people of times-gone-by. It is usually eaten with a side of hot tea. The aesthetics of Tsukisekai is just as important as the sweet itself, with a great amount of care often put into the packaging and presentation, making them a popular gift idea for many who are in the area and looking to take something back home for friends and family.
Beautifully packaged sweets at Tsukisekai