Table of Contents
- Where are Kansai and Kanto?
- 1. Different Ways of Grilling Eel! [Unagi]
- 2. Is it Only Sweet in Kanto? [Rolled omelette]
- 3. Kansai People Don't like This Staple?! [Natto]
- 4. The Method of Preparation Differs! [Sukiyaki]
- 5. Even Cup Noodles Taste Different! - [Dashi]
- 6. New Year's Food is Also Different [Ozoni]
Even though both regions are found in Japan and even on the same island of Honshu, the tastes of the people of Kanto and Kansai are massively different. For travelers, enjoying two different versions of the same dish can be fun! So why not read this article and compare the different tastes of East and West Japan?
Where are Kansai and Kanto?
Tokyo forms the central core of the Kanto Region, while Kyoto and Osaka are at the core of the Kansai Region. While there are no clear designations as to the extent of either Kanto or Kansai, the Kanto Region is generally considered to be constituted of the Tokyo metropolitan area, Chiba Prefecture, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture, Tochigi Prefecture, and Ibaraki Prefecture, with Yamanashi Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture also included in some definitions.
The Kansai Region is often said to be comprised of the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Wakayama, and Shiga, however there are some who would also include the nearby prefectures of Mie and Okayama.
1. Different Ways of Grilling Eel! [Unagi]
The beautifully fragrant sauce that garnishes delicious unagi (eel) will have you reaching for the next bite before you can stop yourself. There are likely many of you that are excited to enjoy some unagi in Japan, right? This popular dish in Japanese cuisine is enjoyed in different ways in Kanto and Kansai giving rise to a unique texture in both regions.
Firstly, unagi is butchered in differently in Kansai and Kanto. In Kanto it is worked from the back, while in Kansai a knife is inserted in the stomach. It is said that in Kanto, an area that traditionally was home to many samurai, the Kansai style of opening eels at the stomach was avoided as it was reminiscent of the seppuku practice of suicide observed by some samurai.
Moreover, one big difference is that in Kanto unagi is steamed and then grilled, while in Kansai it is not steamed at all, simply grilled. This means that Kanto-style unagi is soft and thickly textured, while the Kansai style has a crispy skin with soft and light flesh.
2. Is it Only Sweet in Kanto? [Rolled omelette]
Rolled omellettes (tamagoyaki) involve beating an egg and shaping it into a thick and voluminous shape with a special rectangular pan. It is a dish that is often prepared in Japanese homes. In both Kanto and Kansai the look of a rolled omelette doesn't change; however, the taste is completely different. Richer tastes are preferred in Kanto, therefore soy sauce and mirin (rice wine) are used with sugar for a sweet finish. More delicate flavours are preferred in Kansai, therefore it is made with a dashi (fish stock) for a savoury flavor.
By the way, if you are ordering a rolled omelette in a sushi restaurant, which type do you think you will receive? The correct answer is the sweeter variety. The reason for this is that the method of making sushi by hand originated in Tokyo.
3. Kansai People Don't like This Staple?! [Natto]
Natto (fermented soy beans) is a famous food product from Ibaraki Prefecture. Many Japanese people believe that "Kansai people dont like natto." It is true that sales of natto in Kansai lag behind those in the Kanto region and that natto only began to be sold in supermarkets in Kansai just 30 years ago. However, in recent times, with the boom in healthy eating, more people are eating natto, and coupled with seasonings made to please the Kansai market as well as processing that helps to suppress the odor that comes from the food, there is a growing cohort of natto fans in Kansai. Perhaps in a couple of decades, this stereotype may have disappeared for good.
4. The Method of Preparation Differs! [Sukiyaki]
The popular Japanese dish known as sukiyaki (thin slices of beef cooked with a selection of vegetables) is prepared differently in Kanto and Kansai. Kanto-style sukiyaki contains a stock made from soy sauce, mirin, cooking sake, sugar and fish stock. This stock is boiled before putting in the vegetables and meat.
In the Kansai style, sugar and soy sauce are put into the pot and then once the meat has been cooked in it the vegetables are added. The mixture comes to boil just from the water that comes off of the vegetables, so sake or water can be added to dilute the flavor.
In terms of taste, the Kanto style of sukiyaki has a smoother flavor with the meat juices being absorbed into the vegetables. In contrast, with the Kansai style, the taste of the meat can be enjoyed before it gets dissolved into the broth.
5. Even Cup Noodles Taste Different! - [Dashi]
In order to cater for the differing tastes of the two regions, a number of cup noodle manufacturers change the tastes of their stock! If you are touring the country and have the chance to buy both varieties, make sure to do a taste test and experience the difference for yourself.
In Kanto, richly dark bonito based dashi is used, while in the Kansai version a weaker looking broth is formed from the mixing of bonito based dashi with a kelp based stock. Bonito based dashi has a stronger smell, whereas kelp based dashi adds an extra burst of flavor while leveraging other ingredients.
There are many Japanese people who do not know that cup noodles taste different from East to West and apparently a number of complaints are received by the manufacturer every year from those who have bought cup noodles in the opposite region and are upset that it "tastes different that usual".
6. New Year's Food is Also Different [Ozoni]
On New Year's Day, ozoni (a type of soup) is eaten after visiting relatives to greet them on the coming of the new year. There are clear differences in this dish in every region. This means that there are not just differences in how it is made in Kanto and Kansai but in every individual region across Japan, making for one very varied dish. If you are spending the New Year's holidays in Japan, then you should be sure to give it a try.
Much of the ozoni made in Kanto uses a bonito based dashi with a transparent soy sauce-infused stock into which they put squarely shaped rice cakes, chicken thigh, and carrots. Conversely, in much of the ozoni in Kansai a bonito based dashi is mixed with sweet white miso, making a completely white broth into which round mochi is placed. It further differs from Kanto in that a special species of carrot from the Kansai region known as Kintoki Carrot is used. It is distinct for its red color and its lack of smell, as well as its sweetness.
Even though they are separated by a simple 2 hour and 30 minute ride on the bullet train, tastes in Kanto and Kansai are completely different. While on your travels across Japan, make sure to enjoy discovering how tastes differ between the two regions and how meals play out in areas on the border between East and West.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.