Have you heard the word ‘meibutsu’ before? “Meibutsu” (名物) is a Japanese word that refers to a local specialty or a famous product of a certain area. Listing meibutsu seems to come very naturally to Japanese people…name almost any city or region and they will quickly reel off the well known specialities of the area.. “Oh, you’re going to Hiroshima! Try the Hiroshima-fu Okonomiyaki…..”
In Japan, there is a strong cultural emphasis on local specialties and regional cuisine. From Hokkaido’s seafood to Kyoto’s tofu, every region in Japan is known for its unique culinary traditions, ingredients, and flavors. Japanese people take great pride in their local food culture and often seek out regional specialties when traveling or dining out.
One reason for this obsession with regional cuisine is Japan’s geography. The country is long and narrow, stretching over 3,000 kilometers from north to south. As a result, there is a wide variety of climates, landscapes, and food sources. Japan’s mountains, forests, rivers, and coastlines all offer different ingredients and culinary traditions that have developed over centuries.
Another reason for this emphasis on regional cuisine is Japan’s deep cultural respect for craftsmanship and tradition. Japanese people value traditional techniques and ingredients that have been passed down through generations. In many parts of Japan, local food culture is intimately tied to the history, folklore, and natural environment of the region. Eating a regional specialty can be a way to connect with that local history and culture.
Perhaps a little more cynically, the Japanese obsession with meibutsu is more and more driven by the country’s highly competitive food industry. With so many local specialties to choose from, restaurants and food companies often focus on promoting their regional specialties to stand out in a crowded marketplace. This has led to a culture of food tourism, where people travel specifically to try different regional cuisines and ingredients. This has extended to all sorts of products – read about regional Kitkat flavors here!
Kobe is regarded as the ‘dining capital of Japan’, and features a variety of local specialties.
Kobe beef (神戸ビーフ): Kobe beef is considered one of the best beef in the world, and is known for its tender texture and rich, buttery flavor. It can be grilled and served with seasonings and sauces or served in sukiyaki and shabu-shabu dishes.
Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き): This is a type of Japanese pancake made with a batter base, mixed with various ingredients such as seafood, meat, or vegetables, and topped with sauces and seasonings.
Shrimp or crab dishes: Kobe is known for its fresh seafood, and local specialties include dishes made with shrimp or crab, such as tempura or grilled with seasonings.
Kobe-style udon (神戸うどん): This is a regional variation of udon, a type of Japanese noodle dish, that is particularly popular in Kobe. The noodles are typically thicker and chewier than traditional udon, and the broth is often made with a rich, soy-based dashi.
Kobe steak (神戸ステーキ): Kobe steak is a dish made from high-quality Kobe beef that is grilled and served with seasonings, sauces, and sides such as rice and vegetables.
Of course, if you take the 20 minute train ride into Osaka, everything changes! Osaka meibutsu is much more about the street food, perhaps reflecting the lifestyle of the city a little more. For me, the pick of Osaka meibutsu is the always yummy takoyaki (literally ‘cooked octopus’, but actually delicious little doughballs with a bite of octopus inside, smothered with a BBQ sauce and mayonnaise….just about the perfect winter snack!}.
If you want to read in more detail about meibutsu, and the cultural significance of regional dining in Japan, this is quite an interesting article.
Trying the local food will be a big highlight of your time in Kobe. Ask the Lexis Japan staff for recommendations!