1. Narazuke (奈良漬)
'Zuke' means 'picked' in Japanese, so 'Narazuke' is Nara's regional type of pickle. The pickles are made with 'sake kasu,' which is a byproduct left over from producing sake, so it is also sometimes called 'kasu-zuke.' Narazuke is a very traditional dish that has been eaten for over 1300 years. Don't be afraid of the way it looks. Although they have a bit of a strong and unique taste, you won't be able to stop eating once you get used to them! Enjoy the combination of sweetness and saltiness, the flavor of sake, and crunchy texture. They go great with a bowl of white rice.
Yamazakiya is Nara's most famous shop for narazuke, and is well known for the variety of traditional narazuke flavors offered. There are several branches in Nara city, and one is located in about 10-minutes walk from JR Nara station. It could be your last stop before you head out to your next destination!
2. Kakinoha sushi (柿の葉すし)
Kakinoha sushi is a unique type of regional sushi. Kakinoha means a leaf of kaki (persimmon in English), and this sushi is wrapped in the leaf. It is said that people started to wrap sushi this way in order to preserve the seafood in the time before refrigeration. These sushi are the perfect Nara picnic food, as they're easy to take with you, and not messy to eat. Make sure you don't eat the leaves.
The best-known kakinoha sushi in Nara City is found at a shop called Tanaka. Tanaka has a dining space in case you want to eat inside, but if the weather is nice, we recommend taking the sushi to go and eating it in beautiful Nara Park, which is just 5 minutes away!
3. Asuka nabe (飛鳥鍋)
Did you know that Nara used to be called 'Asuka?'
Asuka nabe is a local Japanese-style hot pot (nabe) dish. Usually, the soup for hot pot is made from soy sauce, chicken or pork stock, or seafood broth. However, asuka nabe uses milk, which makes the soup mild and creamy. The ingredients are simmered nicely, and the flavors are not overpowered by any strong flavors in the soup. It's the perfect dish for the cooler seasons, as it will warm you up!
There are not many places that serve Asuka nabe anymore. However, a restaurant called Mendoya serves outstanding Asuka nabe, as well as other local specialties. The shop is about a 20-minute walk from Asuka station.
4. Soumen (そうめん)
Soumen is now a very popular and common noodle dish throughout Japan, but it was actually born in Nara over 1300 years ago. Soumen is thin and soft noodles that people usually eat cold with a dipping sauce in the summertime. But in Nara, the birthplace of somen, people eat hot somen called nyumen too!
In Nara, a shop and restaurant called Miwa Yamamoto is the probably the most famous somen maker. Stop by for a meal in the restaurant, and if you liked it, you can buy dried soumen noodles to take home as a souvenir. Miwa Yamamoto is about 7-minutes away from Makimuku Station.
5. Chagayu (茶粥)
Chagayu is another traditional Nara specialty that used to be eaten by Buddhist monks. 'Cha' means green tea and 'gayu' means rice porridge or gruel. 'Chagayu' therefore, is a simple dish where rice is cooked in tea instead of water. The dish is simple but allows you to taste the delicious, deep flavor of green tea. It is also easy to digest, which is good for your stomach!
'To no Chaya' is a Japanese cafe that offers a traditional Japanese atmosphere with tatami mats, simple decorations, and beautiful set meals that include chagayu. You can get a basic set for around ¥2,000, or spend a little more from an extra fancy set with many small dishes. The restaurant is located a 10-minutes walk from Kyobate station.
Enjoy the traditional tastes of Nara
Nara is one of Japan's most traditional cities, and there are some great local dishes that have a long history. Try these local cuisines while you're there to make your visit complete!