World-famous Hiroshima (広島) is a beautiful city with a lot going for it: the locals are advocates for peace on an international scale, especially in their determined efforts to abolish nuclear weapons; it is home to the largest streetcar system in Japan (known as “Hiroden” [広電]), with a lineup of both modern and historic trams; and the cuisine is coveted by people all over Japan, who hope that their friends visiting return with momiji manjū (もみじ饅頭; small maple leaf-shaped sweets) as souvenirs. Hiroshima okonomiyaki (広島のお好み焼き) is a dish with which everyone in the country is familiar, and the local tsukemen (付け麺) is renowned for its spiciness. Yet, it is a humble but delicious mollusk that dominates the food scene this time of year.
Oysters (牡蠣; kaki) are one of Hiroshima’s best local delicacies. The city boasts an history of oyster cultivation stretching back over 450 years; today it provides most (about 70%) of the nation’s supply. Hiroshima oysters are shipped all over the country and even abroad, but the best place to enjoy them is right at the source. While they are available all year, the best time to enjoy oysters is during the winter season. Not only are there less tourists to compete with in the cold winter months, but oysters are in season from November to March, meaning they’re at their largest, juiciest, and most delicious during this time.
As the largest provider of oysters on the archipelago, the shellfish can be enjoyed many ways in Hiroshima. They come raw (生ガキ; namagaki), char-grilled (焼きがき; yakigaki), served over rice (どんぶり; donburi), and fried (カキフライ; kakifurai). There’s a regional dish made by stewing oysters and vegetables in miso broth called kaki no dotenabe (牡蠣の土手鍋) that’s bound to keep you warm. Perhaps the most beloved is Hiroshima’s famous okonomiyaki―a pancake-like dish made by layering flour, egg, noodles, cabbage, bean sprouts, meat, and other vegetables―topped with oysters. You can find this dish virtually anywhere okonomiyaki is served, but probably only during winter. Even if you are only mildly interested in―or even somewhat adverse to―trying oysters, you’re bound to find something you like. If you’re already an oyster fan, beware: you are likely to eat so much that you yourself begin to resemble one of the plump, gelatinous blobs with which you’ve been stuffing your face. But you’ll enjoy every second of it.
There are many restaurants where you can devour these tasty globs. For okonomiyaki with oysters, simply go to any of Hiroshima’s well-known okonomiyaki spots. There are a lot, which may seem daunting, but the good news is that okonomiyaki is very accessible and probably delicious no matter where you go. Perhaps the best known spot is Okonomimura (お好み村), a three-floor “food theme park” with over 20 okonomiyaki joints from which to choose. Each place is slightly different, but they all serve delicious meals and most of them have oysters in the winter, so it’s hard to go wrong. The okonomiyaki is cooked right in front of you in a small, intimate shop, so feel free to take pictures of the process and chat up the cooks. Another good place to grab okonomiyaki if you’re short on time is at one of the restaurants in ASSE (アッセ), a shopping mall located in the Hiroshima Station building (we recommend 麗ちゃん [“Reichan”] on the second floor).
For a wider variety of oyster-related meals, try Oyster Conclave Kaki-tei (牡蠣亭). Kaki-tei is located right on the Kyobashi River, a short walk from the Hiroden Main Line, so it offers a lovely view in addition to mounds of oysters prepared in all the ways you can dream of.
If you’re looking for a more traditional atmosphere and you’re feeling fancy, try Kanawa. Kanawa has a few locations, but the most interesting is the floating restaurant. Also known as the “Oyster Boat” (牡蠣船; kakifune) you can enjoy all kinds of seafood specialties surrounded by waitstaff dressed in kimono. Kanawa serves oysters year-round, and there’s another location at Hiroshima Station (in the ASSE building!) if you’re prone to seasickness.
If you don’t mind going a little out of your way during your stay, nearby Miyajima (宮島)―home of one of the most sought after sights in Japan―is another place to enjoy oysters. On Miyajima, you can enjoy most of the same delicacies found in Hiroshima City, but the best finds on the island are the raw and char-grilled oysters as well as the oyster curry bread (牡蠣カレーパン; kaki kare-pan) sold in street stalls.
Restaurants like Yakigaki-no-Hayashi (焼きがきのはやし) and Kaki-ya (牡蠣屋; literally “Oyster Shop”) in the bustling Omotesando shopping area are great places to try a variety of oyster dishes, such as udon, curry, and soup. They also serve amazing raw oysters, thanks to their close proximity to the sea. Street stalls all over the island carry char-grilled oysters, which can be enjoyed a number of ways, but are generally served with lemon and/or ponzu sauce.
Just a stroll from the ferry to Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社)―Miyajima’s most famous destination―provides an opportunity to try probably the island’s best (and most affordable!) oyster treat: oyster curry bread. Found at a shop called BIG SET, this warm pastry is full of Japanese-style curry and oysters and only costs 400 yen. (If you develop a dependency on the bread, there’s a kiosk that sells them in Hiroshima Station, so you can grab some for the Shinkansen ride to your next destination.)
Miyajima is hosting its annual Oyster Festival (宮島かき祭り; Miyajima kaki matsuri) on February 21st and 22nd in 2017―yet another reason you should plan your decadent trip to the region in the winter. Just don’t blame us when you weigh yourself after your visit.
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