If you love fruit, you won’t be disappointed when searching for what to eat in Okayama. This prefecture lies about halfway down the coast from Kobe to Hiroshima, facing onto the Seto Inland Sea, and its very agreeable climate means it houses some the most prolific orchards and vineyards in the country.
That’s likely why it’s also the home of Japan’s most famous fruit-related legend: the story of Momotaro (that’s Peach Boy, to you and me). This folkloric figure was said to have been found inside a giant peach floating down a river, and now you’ll find him adorning signs and souvenirs all around the prefecture.
But it’s not just about fruit in Okayama. The prefecture is home to some fantastic historical culture, including the famous Okayama Castle. You’ll also find plenty of delicious and unique seafood dishes, tasty noodle bowls, and mouthwatering traditional sweets. Let’s take a look at the eight most iconic foods of the region, which you simply cannot visit Okayama without trying.
What to Eat in Okayama
Here are some must-eat Okayama specialty foods.
- Hiruzen Yakisoba
- Okayama Barazushi
- Kibi Dango
- Tsuyama Horumon Udon
- White Peaches
- Kaikoko (Oyster Okonomiyaki)
- Chiya Beef
- Ebi Meshi
1. Hiruzen Yakisoba
Soba noodles are one of the most popular staples in the Japanese diet, and every region has its own style. In Okayama, they’re best enjoyed in hiruzen yakisoba, a stir-fry with chicken, cabbage, and a special miso sauce with apple, onion, garlic and more. It’s a rich and warming dish which hails from a highland area in north Okayama.
The best place to try it is Maniwa City. For the dish to be truly authentic hiruzen yakisoba, the chicken and cabbage should produced locally, so most places source theirs from the surrounding countryside. Expect maximum freshness!
If you’re a fan of regular yakisoba, pad thai, or any other noodle stir-fry dishes, you’ll love this one for sure.
2. Okayama Barazushi
It’s thought that this jam-packed sushi dish was invented as a response to Edo era restrictions on luxury spending, which meant restaurants were only allowed to serve one side dish and one soup with each main meal. Apparently the mega-rich daimyo of Okayama decided only the upper classes should be eating extravagantly!
However, working class eateries found a way to circumvent the restrictions by mixing big hearty bowl of rice, egg, vegetables, and seafood fresh from the Seto Inland Sea, rather than serving all the components separately. The result is a stacked bowl of freshness with the seasonal best of the mountains and sea, including lotus root, eel, shrimp, and sardines.
Nowadays this inventive old-time dish is a central part of Okayama cuisine. And if any dish defines the Japanese word umami, this might just be it.
3. Kibi Dango
A popular Japanese food, the Okayama version of this sweet dumpling has some mythological connotations, said be one of the favorite snacks of the prefecture’s resident folk hero Momotaro. Although Momotaro came from humble beginnings, born from the inside of a peach and adopted by an elderly couple, he somehow grew up to become the region’s premier demon hunter.
Kibi dango was the food his mother packed for his first expedition, and with which he convinced some plucky animal companions to join him on his journey. Although Japan seems relatively demon-free nowadays, the sweets from the story still live on: a millet flour, rice flour, and sugar dumpling ball, often served on a stick.
The texture is soft and marshmallow-like, and nowadays you’ll be able to find all kinds of flavors and varieties on sale.
4. Tsuyama Horumon Udon
Horumon — it’s a word which divides opinion among gourmets. It basically relates to all things offal and innards, named so because they’re thought to boost vitality. While you might be a little put off by the idea of eating tripe and intestine, the people of Tsuyama City in Okayama have been enjoying them for centuries.
If you fancy joining them, horumon udon is a great place to start. This combines thick, chewy udon noodles with fresh, clean cuts from all over the pig. Some places will also use beef offal too. These are mixed with a miso sauce for a delicious grilled dish sure to boost your stamina!
5. White Peaches
This is far and away the most iconic Okayama food. As we mentioned already, Okayama is the land of the the legendary Peach Boy, but the prefecture’s association with the fruit goes further than that. The region is one of the biggest peach producers in the country, and has been ever since widespread planting began in 1875.
But it’s the quality rather than the quantity which Okayama is famed for. Their famous white peaches are treated with great individual care, and are famed as the softest and sweetest around. There are many different varieties grown in the prefecture, but if you only try one then make it the Shimizu white peach. This fruit is a perfect representation of the sweetness and juiciness which the fruit growers of Okayama pride themselves on.
Aside from eating them by themselves, you’ll also see plenty of stores and vendors selling all sorts of peach-based treats, from shaved ice to traditional mochi sweets (check out our Beginner's Guide to Mochi for an overview of 16 common types).
6. Kaikoko (Oyster Okonomiyaki)
In the east of Okayama, you’ll find Hinase, comprised of a small coastal area and several islands offshore. The waters here offer some of the best oysters around. If I already have your attention, you’ll love what’s coming next.
The local specialty dish combines fresh-off-the-boat oysters with one of the classic Japanese dishes, okonomiyaki: a kind of layered savory pancake. To make it, batter is drizzled onto a griddle pan and mixed with shredded cabbage, and a whole lot of the region’s signature shellfish, then topped with special okonomiyaki sauce.
All of that together makes for a hearty, filling meal packed with heaps of oceanic umami.
7. Chiya Beef
When deciding what to eat in Okayama, your mind would probably drift first to the seas and orchards, rather than cattle pastures, but the prefecture boasts some excellent red meat, too. Japanese wagyu beef is some of the best in the world, which should be at the top of every steak-lover’s list when visiting Okayama. But you’ll need to set aside quite a few meals to sample all of the varieties that the country offers.
Okayama’s foremost offering is Chiya beef, and it’s one of the rarest kinds out there. The cattle are raised in Niimi City, in the northern highlands of the prefecture, according to strict regulations. Because supply is so limited, this city is also the best place to try some.
It’s available in all sorts of dishes, from traditional European-style steak to Japanese sukiyaki hotpot. However you try it, you’ll be impressed by the beautiful fatty marbling and rich, meaty flavor.
8. Ebi Meshi
This is one of the lesser-known Okayama specialties, which makes use of the fantastic shrimp which the prefecture’s ports offer. These shellfish are cooked with rice and demi-glace sauce, giving the dish a deep reddish-brown color.
It tastes as rich as it looks, with the slight sweetness of the demi-glace complimenting the prawns perfectly. You’ll find a few different variations in Okayama City, such as omurice style (in which the rice is rolled inside an omelet). As one of the more modern and affordable Okayama inventions, it makes for a lovely, filling lunch.
If you find yourself down in this sun-soaked section of Japan, you owe it to yourself to dive headfirst into all of the rich culinary culture outlined above. Juicy fruits, even juicier shrimp, premium wagyu beef, oysters, noodle dishes… All of the rich variety of Japanese cuisine is on display here, with delectable local twists which showcase the unique Okayama style.