Overview

Japan's first official capital city has seen Nara develop a cuisine that is not only ancient but elegantly delicious. Foods like somen noodles are said to have originated in Nara, fermented dishes like pickled mackerel fish wrapped in persimmon leaves and the old aristocratic pickled vegetable bites add further depth of heritage while a rice gruel made with tea may very well be the nation's oldest official dish. Here is a simple guide to some of the regional cuisine of Nara.

Miwa somen

Overshadowed by its more famous soba, udon and ramen noodle cousins, the ultra thin somen noodles, with their smooth yet firm texture, make them an ideal summer dish. In Nara, said to be the birthplace of somen, Miwa somen is great as a chilled summer dish but in winter, it changes into Nara's famous nyumen, a gently satisfying hot soup meal.

Miwa somen (Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Miwa_somen_01.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">ちぃこ / CC BY 2.1 JP</a>)
Miwa somen (Photo: ちぃこ / CC BY 2.1 JP)

Kakinoha zushi

Salted mackerel is pressed, made into a sushi topping and then wrapped in a persimmon leaf to create Nara's famous kakinoha zushi. Especially popular during the prefectures summer festivals, the magic of the persimmon wrapping lies in its gentle fragrance and antibacterial properties, making kakinoha zushi into an excellent meal on the go.

Kakinoha zushi (Photo: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kakinohazusi.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Tomomarusan / CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)
Kakinoha zushi (Photo: Tomomarusan / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Narazuke

Possibly Nara's most famous local food, narazuke are pickled dishes made from foods including gourd, cucumber, watermelon and so on. Pickled multiple times with mirin added as a sweetener, narazuke are then left to pickle for up to two years. Once a high-end food over one thousand years ago, narazuke is now part and parcel of everyday eating.

Narazuke (Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%E5%A1%A9%E5%88%86_%E5%9B%9B_(40271655544).jpg" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">	Carla Abanes from Malolos City, Philippines / CC BY-SA 2.0</a>)
Narazuke (Photo: Carla Abanes from Malolos City, Philippines / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Yamato no chagayu

A dish almost as old as the country itself, Yamato no chagayu is, in its essence, a green tea porridge made form rice, water and tea. It's simplicity belies the depth of heritage as the dish was born at around the same time as the birth of Japan. Popular in the mornings, chagayu is also part and parcel of traditional Buddhist festivals at the famous Todaiji Temple.

Yamato no chagayu (Photo: <a href="https://ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%95%E3%82%A1%E3%82%A4%E3%83%AB:Cha_Gayu_20141001.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Degueulasse / CC BY 3.0</a>)
Yamato no chagayu (Photo: Degueulasse / CC BY 3.0)