While many of the more famous or popular Japanese dishes come from the Kanto or Kansai regions, that doesn’t mean that Nagoya doesn’t have some amazing food to discover. Nagoya food (Nagoya meshi) is a hugely varied and diverse cuisine, encompassing the traditional ‘washoku’ as well as the more modern ‘yōshoku’.
Below is an introduction to some of Nagoya’s best dishes and the best places to pick it up.
While white miso is favored throughout most of the country, Nagoyans are immensely proud of their red ‘hatcho’ miso sauce. Cut a Nagoyan and he shall bleed it, and then, more than likely he will find a tonkatsu fried pork cutlet on which to pour the rich sweet and savory sauce as to not to waste a sacred drop. When out-of-towners think of Nagoya meshi, it is miso katsu that they think of.
You can get miso katsu in izakayas all over the city, but by far and away the most famous restaurant is Yabaton. Established more than 60 years ago, Yabaton is a Nagoyan institution, which is evidenced by the queues that stretch right down the street from its Yaba-cho branch at peak times. But that should not dissuade you from trying it out, because it is in their Wariji Tonkatsu that the taste of Nagoya lies.
Tebasaki, or fried chicken wings is, alongside miso katsu, possibly the ‘daddy’ of Nagoyan cuisine. There are two really famous tebasaki chains that serve Nagoya. The older of the two is Furaibo, which spices its chicken wings in the traditional Nagoya way. However, if you like a bit of spice in your life, there is a much more peppery version available at Sekai no Yama-chan, which has so many branches of its shop in the Kanayama area, that if one of their shops is full the waitress can literally walk you to another just around the corner.
Developed at the turn of the 20th century as a reaction to the growing popularity of other Meiji era yoshoku, Ebi Furai, or deep fried breaded prawn, is enjoyed all over the country. No matter where you go in Japan, you can probably find ebi furai on an Izakaya menu or in a bento box.
Ebi furai can be best found in two particular forms: preposterously long (30cm!) or in a hearty sandwich. The former can be found in Nagoya’s most famous ebi furai restaurant, Maruha. Whilst you can find branches of this seafood orientated izakaya elsewhere in Nagoya, it is the views of the city and the airy atmosphere of the Sakae branch that makes it stand out. If you want something a bit simpler, the ebi furai sand (fried prawn sandwich) is the way to go, and while many restaurants do them, none can compare to Konparu. These somewhat rough and ready cafes are dotted around the city, but my favorite one is near the entrance to the Higashiyama line in Nagoya Station.
Doteni is another dish that, like miso katsu, incorporates the red hatchi miso that Nagoyans love. Its English name of ‘offal stew’ does little service to this red miso stew that is perfect for warming cold bodies on chilly winter nights. There can be various ingredients in doteni, but generally it consists of beef tendon simmered for hours in the miso broth. In some small restaurants you might find a large doteni bowl on the counter with beef skewers poking out for you to help yourself. That’s when you know you’ve found a good place.
Opened in 1949, Doteyaki Shimasho is a long-established Nagoya restaurant. At Shimasho the sauce looks so dark you’d expect it to be overpowering, but it actually has a surprisingly light and fresh flavor. The must-try dish is the assorted doteyaki plate, which includes beef tendon, egg, and daikon radish that has been prepared for ten whole days so that the flavors seep through. It’s highly recommended that you include a deep fried kushikatsu skewer or two as a side dish.
No list of Nagoyan cuisine can be complete without ankake pasta. Which is kind of a shame because, well, it’s not exactly wonderful, particularly for diners who are used to Italian pasta dishes.
In Ankake Spaghetti, thick spaghetti noodles are pan-fried and topped with rich spicy sauce that is sticky like sauces you might find in Chinese restaurants. It is said to have originated during attempts to adapt a meat sauce or Bolognese to the taste of Nagoya people. Weiner sausages, onions, and green peppers are popular ingredients, and makes it a bright, almost lurid dish that looks like it could have been created for easily distracted children.
In spite of the criticism leveled at it (mainly by me, it has to be said), ankake spaghetti continues to be popular. It is said to have originated at Spaghetti House Sole in Sakae, but today the most popular restaurants are Spaghetti House Yokoi and Spaghetti House Ciao, the latter of which having been around since before the phrase ‘ankake spaghetti’ was even coined.
Strictly speaking hitsumabushi, or grilled eel, probably has closer ties to Tokyo or Osaka. But let’s forget that for a moment, because Nagoya does it so well that it has made it its own.
Hitsumabushi is kind of like an unagi donburi, or eel rice bowl, dish, but the way it is eaten is a bit different than a standard donburi meal. Hitsumabushi is served in a large bowl of rice topped with finely chopped unagi, with several other toppings and condiments. Generally, these will include green onions, dried seaweed, wasabi, and grated leeks, and a container of dashi, or fish stock soup. In addition to this, the setting will include pickled vegetables, and an empty bowl and rice scoop.
If you want the best hitsumabushi in town you are going to end up in Hōraiken. There are a couple of branches, but the one near Atsuta shrine is the coolest, with a more traditional feel. But be warned, there are no reservations and they get busy, so be prepared to wait outside for a while.
Other options for Nagoya’s specialty foods!