Yonezawa is home to many local specialty foods. Yonezawa beef is one of the most famous of these, being one of the top three wagyu brands in Japan. The city also offers its own distinct version of ramen with curly noodles and a lightly-seasoned broth. In addition to these foods, Tateyama apples are one of Yonezawa's well-known fresh fruit offerings, and Yonezawa carp has a history of being eaten for 200 years.
The ABCs of Yonezawa
The ABCs of Yonezawa
The specialty foods of the city are known as the ABCs of Yonezawa: apples, beef, and carp.
Tateyama apples were the first to be cultivated in Yamagata prefecture. Its distinct rich fragrance and sweet-tart flavour are rated highly in apple fairs.
The world-renowned Fuji apples are also available, and they taste best when harvested in mid-November.
The story of Yonezawa carp began over 200 years ago in 1802.
At the time, many residents were suffering from edema and a lack of dairy in their diet. In order to supplement their diets with protein, the 9th domain lord of Yonezawa, Uesugi Yozan, dispatched his men to what is now Soma city in Fukushima prefecture, a trailblazer in carp farming at the time. They were tasked to seek tutelage from the city regarding their carp farming know-hows and they returned with carp fry which were then raised in Yonezawa castle's moat.
After being raised in the rich, crystal clear waters sourced from the Mogami river flowing through the city for 3 years, the Yonezawa carp developed firm meat and lost much of the muddy odour commonly associated with carp. Such quality fish was very popular as a result.
In Yonezawa, carp is now an indispensable dish that is served during festive occasions like the New Year, Obon, and weddings. The signature local carp dish is as koi umani. The fish is boiled thoroughly with sake, soy sauce and sugar until it is tender and infused with a refined flavour that is a cut above the rest.
Other local carp dishes include koi no arai (raw carp that is soaked in warm and cold water until the meat becomes firm) and koikoku (carp boiled in miso broth).
Sake is brewed within Yonezawa, using the pure water of the area. Toko Sake Museum offers visitors the chance to learn about the sake brewing process.
Yonezawa beef is known as one of the top three wagyu brands in Japan. Many restaurants in the city offer the chance to try this high-quality beef, including some near the station. This brand of wagyu began to be eaten in the late 1800s, during Japan’s Meiji era. A British man named Charles Henry Dallas, at the time working as an English teacher, discovered how delicious the beef was in Yonezawa and shared it with his friends. From there, Yonezawa beef became famous throughout the rest of Japan.
The exquisite flavour of Yonezawa beef is the result of a combination of Yonezawa's climate, water, soil, and the excellent rearing techniques used.
Yonezawa beef has a trademark tenderness and fine marbling which allow the soft and juicy meat to seemingly melt in one's mouth. It is no wonder that it has been consumed for generations to this day. You can enjoy Yonezawa beef in a wide variety of ways - as a steak, in a hot pot, or even raw as sashimi. Its marbled cuts are especially popular in sukiyaki.