A Guide to Shikoku’s Culinary Landscape

by Megan Taylor Stephens

When you appreciate the cuisine of Japan, you can’t help but gradually learn about the varied geography and history of the archipelago. However, without knowing all the names of Japanese cities, regions, and cultural references, it’s hard to know the flavors of certain dishes. Sapporo Ramen, Ishikari Nabe, Jingisukan, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, and Okinawa Soba are a handful of the many dishes that come from particular regions of Japan.

Let’s home in on the island of Shikoku and unravel some of the flavors of the local cuisine to see why it’s so popular.

The Geography of Shikoku 

The four main islands of the Japanese island chain are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Of the four, Shikoku is Japan’s smallest island, tucked between Honshu and Kyushu. Each of the four main islands of Japan—not to mention the thousands of other smaller islands—has a unique personality. Shikoku in particular has kept its regional specialties (kyōdo ryōri 郷土料理), due to its relative isolation. The fact that it was accessible only by ferry until 1988 means that Shikoku’s traditional foods and way of life were preserved more faithfully than in populous places on the mainland.

Shikoku (四国) means “four countries” or “four provinces” due to the fact that is was divided into four distinct prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The tall mountains created a natural boundary between the regions and served to make each prefecture fairly insular. The led to different subcultures on the island of Shikoku, which are illustrated through the culinary landscape within each prefecture.

The Cuisine of Shikoku 

Shikoku Food: Ehime

Ehime is located in the northwest part of Shikoku. Uwajima Tai Meshi is a quintessentially Ehime specialty. It’s not a complicated dish, but if you try Uwajima Tai Meshi, you’ll understand why this hearty and umami meal is a go-to comfort food after a long day of work or play. It gets its name from the Uwajima area of Ehime, the word for red snapper or sea bream (tai), and a word for rice (meshi). Enjoyed by local fishermen for centuries, this classic Shikoku food is made by dipping slices of red snapper sashimi in a creamy sauce made of nama tamago (raw egg), shoyu (soy sauce), and dashi (broth). The sashimi slices are then placed on top of a bowl of steaming rice and other ingredients are added to taste, such as nori (seaweed), negi (spring onions), and goma (sesame seeds).

For dessert, we recommend trying Botchan Dango, also spelled Bocchan Dango. This cute-sounding Ehime specialty combines the title of a famous 1906 book by Natsume Sōseki (Botchan) and the word for dumplings on a stick (dango). Apparently, the main character, Botchan, couldn’t get enough of the mochiko rice balls that came in red, yellow, and green. Red bean paste (anko), egg, and green tea were used to color the dumplings, and they still come in those colors today. Dango is a traditional Japanese sweet that dates back centuries as an offering at Buddhist altars, and they are still enjoyed far and wide throughout Japan. Dango are so ubiquitous that you can find them in a variety of styles at festivals, convenience stores, and even online.

Shikoku Food: Kagawa

Kagawa is the northernmost prefecture of Shikoku. Nothing screams Kagawa like Sanuki Udon Noodles. Sanuki gets its name from the old name for Kagawa prefecture. Udon noodles were introduced to Shikoku by a Buddhist monk who traveled to China more than a millennia ago and fell in love with the thick, springy noodles made from wheat. It turns out that Kagawa’s climate and soil are milder and dryer than other parts of Japan, so it is an ideal place to grow wheat.

Sanuki Udon Noodles are especially elastic and firm compared to other types of udon. The stock is generally made from dried fish such as sardines, as well as kelp and soy sauce. The toppings are light and simple, usually scallions, daikon, and ginger, so as not to detract from the high-quality wheat noodles and classic broth. With simple but satisfying ingredients like this, it is no wonder that Kagawa residents are known as the biggest consumers of udon noodles in Japan!

Shikoku Food: Kochi

Kochi is in the southern part of Shikoku. Katsuo no Tataki, also known as Katsuo Tataki, is the hands-down number one cuisine of Kochi prefecture. Katsuo is bonito, or skipjack tuna. No is a possessive marker that can be translated as “of.” Tataki means pounded, as in the mashing of garlic and other ingredients that are served with the dish. Another meaning of tataki refers to the preparation of the fish or meat itself, which is sometimes sliced and diced into smaller pieces.

Katsuo no Tataki is basically bonito wrapped up and broiled over an open flame so that the outside is seared and the inside is raw. It is eaten with toppings such as ginger, garlic, spring onions, grated daikon radish, soy sauce, and a citrusy ponzu sauce. While Katsuo no Tataki isn’t fancy, it again exemplifies the plentiful maritime ingredients and modest lifestyle of the local Shikoku residents. For many Shikoku-ites, it’s nostalgia on a plate.

Shikoku Food: Tokushima 

Tokushima lies in the northeast section of Shikoku. You can’t escape the Tokushima region of Shikoku without trying the famed Tokushima Ramen. While both udon and ramen are made of wheat, ramen noodles are thinner and wavier than udon noodles, and they are usually made with egg. The stock for Tokushima Ramen can be made of pork, chicken, or vegetables, and the addition of soy sauce varies, which means the shade of the broth varies from lighter to darker.

What sets Tokushima Ramen apart from other ramen dishes is the addition of a raw egg on top, as well as toppings such as bean sprouts and green onion. Another distinctive trait is that rice is often served on the side, which is uncommon for noodle dishes. Tokushima Ramen may not sound like a revolutionary dish, but the simplicity of ingredients combined with the heartiness of flavor makes this dish very popular throughout Japan

Try Local Japanese Cuisine 

Shikoku has a unique history, and its varied cuisine matches its regional diversity. One thing ties it all together and makes it successful. The secret ingredient in Shikoku’s popular cuisine is probably the resourcefulness of the humble, working class fisher and farmer. They know how to make a hearty dish with the freshest ingredients. Add to that Shikoku’s relative isolation over the centuries, and Shikoku’s culinary traditions were well preserved until modern times. You can try some of these local specialties by visiting Bokksu’s Marketplace and ordering items such as the Sanuki Udon Set. You can also treat yourself to a tour of Japan by signing up for a different Japanese snack box to arrive on your doorstep every month. Bokksu’s Japanese snack box contains snacks, sweets, and teas from traditional makers who emphasize tradition and quality in all of their ingredients.