Images of deep cold winters surround Akita prefecture and its cuisine reflects this. Famous for its hearty hotpots that include the region's popular grilled skewers of rice or the hotpot filled with fermented sandfish seasoning, the prefecture is also home to a unique form of sandfish sushi as well as pickled vegetables that are prepared in manner unlike anywhere else in Japan. Here is a simple guide to some of the regional cuisine of Akita.

Kiritanpo nabe

Akita prefecture's cold winters are lovingly warmed up with this popular dish. Kiritanpo nabe feature skewers of shaped rice grilled over charcoal and then placed in a stock of chicken bone along with chicken meat, mushrooms, green onions and other vegetables. A classic dish, kiritanpo can also be eaten basted with miso paste.

Kiritanpo nabe (Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/pelican/7006567432" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">pelican / CC BY-SA 2.0</a>)
Kiritanpo nabe (Photo: pelican / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Shottsuru nabe

Extremely addictive with its strong umami flavouring, shottsuru nabe is a traditional Akita hotpot made with fermented sandfish seasoning. Along with actual sandfish with its light yet fatty flavouring, shottsuru nabe finds itself filled with tofu, leek and other vegetables, making it another one of the prefecture's delicious winter foods.

Shottsuru nabe (Photo: <a href="http://blog.livedoor.jp/wtc200604/archives/65440789.html" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Image by 西東京技術センター</a>)
Shottsuru nabe (Photo: Image by 西東京技術センター)

Hatahata zushi

Hatahata zushi is made with sandfish caught from the rough waters of the Sea of Japan in the middle of winter. A part of the regional diet of Akita for centuries, hatahata zushi is prepared by salting fish and vegetables, then removing the salt before marinating it all in a mixture of rice and koji malt.

Hatahata zushi (Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/horaguchi/5893167388" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Koji Horaguchi / CC BY 2.0</a>)
Hatahata zushi (Photo: Koji Horaguchi / CC BY 2.0)

Iburi gakko

Iburi gakko are pickled vegetables that have undergone a unique Akita method of pickling. Vegetables are washed and then hung together in sheds where they are smoked with fragrant woods like apple, chestnut or cherry. After a few days of this, they are then pickled in rice bran, raw sugar and salt for several months leading to a deeply rich flavour.

Iburi gakko (Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/norisa/9997926514" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Nori Norisa / CC BY 2.0</a>)
Iburi gakko (Photo: Nori Norisa / CC BY 2.0)