When one thinks of Japan’s Setouchi Islands region, visions of pristine beaches, sparkling blue waters and a thriving art scene might spring to mind. However, this peaceful, authentic region of Japan, which spans fully 700 islands and seven prefectures surrounding the Seto Inland Sea, also boasts a diverse climate that yields some ancient—and even delightfully quirky—culinary experiences.
When visiting this fascinating country, be sure to titillate your taste buds with a serving of “hidden sushi.” While visually simple at first blush, turn the so-called “Bara Sushi” dish upside down to reveal a hidden underbelly rife with gorgeous ingredients. The roots of this unique sushi presentation reportedly date back to the lords of Okada during the Edo era, when extravagance was banned. To circumvent prying eyes, people placed their fillings at the bottom of the bowl and then added a rice topper. This way, when in public, it seemed as if they were only eating a modest rice dish when, in fact, they were enjoying a sushi extravaganza—turning the plate over only if the seafood mélange therein wouldn’t be observed.
Next you’d fare well to hop into an “Udon Taxi,” which will usher you around town to delight in this traditional Japanese noodle served in various iterations from one eatery to another. Udon is celebrated in the Kagawa Prefecture in particular, where there are more Udon shops than convenience stores. The area’s affection for Udon draws throngs of tourists to these shops, often prompting long lines of noodle aficionados patiently waiting to experience this esteemed locavore victual. I’m told that only select drivers who pass special tests earn the classification of an Udon Taxi, and they certainly have an inside track on the very best haunts.
For those with a sweet tooth, sick your pearly whites into some Kibi Dango dumpling. Traditionally found in the Okayama prefecture, this is a traditional Japanese confectionery made by rolling, steaming or boiling grain flour with water. So scrumptious is this morsel, historical lore cites this delicious dumpling as having been a shrine offering to the resident deitiy.
And, no foodie frolic in Japan is complete without some serious sake. From the end of the Edo period, sake brewing was difficult due to the area’s soft water but, with the advent of a method in the Meiji era, the Japanese sake brewing industry flourished. Today, the Hiroshima prefecture is home to several famed sake breweries where you can sip, shoot and savor to your heart’s content.
These offer just a small glimpse into what makes the Setouchi Islands such a fantastic destination for gastro-travelers. With a food culture intertwined with historical traditions and origins, this region is replete with tasty treasures beckoning to be devoured.