By Rod Walters
The people of Imabari are often said to be impatient, and this is reflected in the way they cook. Consequently, the region has produced some quick but very tasty dishes that you should try when you’re in Ehime.
The people of Imabari are often said to be impatient, and this is reflected in the way they cook. Yakitori, or chicken cooked on skewers, takes a while to cook properly, but folk in Imabari can’t be bothered with that. So they put the chunks of chicken on a hotplate, and slap a flat steel lid on top to hurry things up. This unusual style of yakitori cooked without skewers is seen in only Imabari. You eat the chicken pieces with chopsticks.
In Imabari, there’s a process to eating chicken. You start with kawa, chicken skin, and finish with senzanki, fried chicken. In Japan, fried chicken is normally called kara-age, but Imabari has its own name for it. There are all sorts of ways to enhance fried chicken, and every restaurant or stall has its own version. But whatever is offered, it makes you want to drink beer. When you visit Imabari, see if you can find the perfect piece of chicken for your taste.
The recipe for yaki-buta-tamago-meshi is quite simple. Slices of seasoned roast pork are placed on rice in a bowl, topped with soft fried eggs and a fermented salty-sweet sauce, with a dash of pepper. It sounds simple, but the sum is greater than the parts!
Yaki-buta-tamago-meshi first appeared at a Chinese restaurant in Imabari forty years ago (it’s closed now) as a meal for the staff. The popular dish migrated from the staff table to the regular menu, and when one of the staff opened their own restaurant, yaki-buta-tamago-meshi became established as Imabari’s soul food. Today, it’s served at over sixty restaurants in Imabari.
Each restaurant has own style of yaki-buta-tamago-meshi, and it’s always ready to serve immediately in response to the impatient nature of Imabari people. Delicious, reasonably priced and voluminous as a matter of course, it must be served quickly!
The Seto Inland Sea produces a wealth of delicious food, especially the sea bream caught in the Kurushima Channel. There are various ways of preparing it, from funamori, sashimi served on a little boat, hamayaki and taizanki grilled and deep fried sea bream respectively, taisenbei a savoury fish cracker which makes a good souvenir.
Igisu is a kind of seaweed that grows on reefs along the shoreline. Tofu made with igisu is redolent of the nearby sea, and it creates a cool sensation on the tongue. It’s one of the summer culinary delights of Imabari.
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I was born in Bristol, England, and I came to Japan in 1991 … which means I’ve lived half my life in this island nation on the other side of the world. The theme of my career in Japan has been communication. I started as an English teacher, and moved into translation as I learned Japanese. I worked at a well-known electronics manufacturer, facilitating their multinational communications before I became a freelance translator. As such, I translated a lot of tourism-related information. It was obvious to me that most of this isn’t sufficient to convey the excitement and wonder of Japan. In 2011, I established Knowledge Travel Partners, an inbound tourism consultancy. After living in several regions of Japan, I settled in Ehime where my wife is from. It’s on the southern island of Shikoku facing the beautiful Seto Inland Sea, Japan’s Mediterranean. The pace of life here is slow and peaceful, but we do like to throw a raucous festival now and again.