Akita is home of high quality rice and water. Local cuisine that utilise these ingredients include Kayaki hot pot or Omagari miso soup but the dish that truly brings out the best in these ingredients is kiritanpo. You can find kiritanpo in a lot of restaurants in the city but the best is at Kiritanpoya. As the name clearly suggests, their menu focuses on this local speciality.
While kiritanpo's origin is not exactly known, the most reliable version said local hunters in northern Akita used leftover rice to avoid any waste. They were then grilling it with miso when cooking the game collected during the day. The word "tanpo" actually comes from the cotton cloth wrapped around the spears by the soldiers when training, as it resembles a similar shape. The first half, "kiri", means "cut down" as it is usually sliced in smaller pieces in order to eat it.
The preparation of this basic but delicious food is very simple. The cooked rice gets smashed till it becomes a paste and then rolled over a cedar stick to get it grilled. The most known ways to eat it are roasted with miso or boiled in a hot pot with vegetables and chicken. Known as nabekko, this hot pot version it's probably one of the best ways to savor this traditional dish.
Kiritanpoya restaurant offers you a great experience. As soon as you will enter the front door you'll find yourself in a small atrium surrounded by old farmer tools, typical sounds from the countryside and even a fake rice field with blinking fireflies. Right inside there is the traditional fireplace (Irori 囲炉裏) with kiritanpo sticks cooking on the hot embers. The interiors are mainly made of dark wood and lit up with warm light lamps. The place is intimate and there is room for just few booths and four sittings around the counter. If it will be the first time you try this dish I personally suggest to go for the traditional nabekko. Once you will have ordered, the waiter will show you the round metal pot filled with all the ingredients and leave it on the heater.
Dressed with traditional clothes they will then present you the history of this popular food. Using a series of drawings to support the telling, it's a great way to introduce you to this famous plate. The traditional music in the background, the boiling pot in front of you and the delightful smell in the air will create the perfect atmosphere to enjoy your first kiritanpo.
When you will first open the lid of your pot the flavor will make your mouth water. The fresh vegetables and the soft meat are very tasty and the slices of kiritanpo are deeply infused with the taste of the rich chicken broth. Start with each different ingredient individually to enjoy its unique taste; then try them in any combination. Let the taste fill up your mouth and enjoy this speciality at its best.
Tip: if possible try to book at least one day in advance.
The restaurant is located right outside the Akita JR train station on the west exit, just past the bus terminal.