I’ve been off work since last week, and my fiancé and I have been traveling in Aomori Prefecture for the past few days. I have to confess that, although for me food is always a big part of vacations, the thought of this blog has driven me to sample even more edibles than usual. After days of noodles and ice cream, I’m looking forward to getting home and making myself a big salad.
Without having visited them all myself, I hazard to guess that every single region, city or town in Japan, no matter how small, has a particular food that it prides itself on, and Aomori is no exception. While each region has it’s own meibutsu (specialty), the entire prefecture is best known for one particular crop: Apples. Of course, early May is about as far from apple season as can be. In Hirosaki the famous cherry blossoms are in full bloom, but the miles of apple orchards we passed in the car were bare and sad. I found it surprising that apples were still being sold at roadside stands – their deliciousness was a testament to the excellence of the crop, and to numerous refrigerated apple warehouses. If you are planning a trip to Aomori in any season other than fall, however, I highly recommend sampling some of the other foods, available year round, that use this most famous of northern fruits. Apple pie, apple juice and dried apple chips are obvious options, but here are a few items that really did Aomori justice.
I tried a number of local beers on this trip, but one of the best was the Apple Draft from Tsugaru Komise Brewery (Tsugaru Komise Biiru Koujou). This light ale with a distinctly apple tang is available in a number of stores in the Komise district of Kuroishi City, just east of Hirosaki. Enjoy it at a restaurant with a bowl of Kuroishi’s famous tsuyu yakisoba (sauteed yakisoba noodles drowned in broth and served with lots of vegetables, a poached egg and tempura) or buy a few bottles and bring them home as souveniers for your friends.
But my favorite apple snack came from Chandola, a patisserie in downtown Aomori City. The shop itself has sit down dining on the second floor, while the first has a beautiful lineup of cakes and breads – but the focus of this brief review is their Belgian waffle. Each waffle is coated in caramelized sugar, and pieces of flavorful apple have been mixed into the dough. If you go to the restaurant you can order them with ice cream and chocolate syrup, but I ate one plain while walking down the sidewalk, and it was amazing. If you are ever in Aomori City, please stop by and have a waffle – Chandola on a main street close to the station.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Aomori was shaken pretty hard by the recent monsterous earthquake in the Tohoku region. The most obvious effect of this was that tourism in many areas is way down – a liquor store owner in the Towada Lake region told us that his sales have been about a tenth of what they were this time last year. Many shutters in this resort town were shut, and the streets were eerily empty, so his story was hardly surprising.
Those of us in Japan are familiar with the raging battle between jishuku (voluntary restraint – in this case, in solidarity with those who continue to suffer in affected areas) and “spending our way out of crisis” (supporting the economy by continuing with our everyday, consumptive lives). I don’t know where I weigh in on this. But in case you’re itching to get out and travel in Japan in the near future, I can tell you that Aomori is beautiful, and eager to welcome visitors.