Located just to the east of Kyoto but with only a fraction of the crowds, Shiga is a peaceful and scenic prefecture full of sweeping views and historic sights. It’s also home to the stunning Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. Biwa offers many answers to the question of what to eat in Shiga, providing pure water and fresh fish in abundance. With indigenous marine life, locally-crafted sweets, and some of the best wagyu beef in the world, Shiga has plenty to offer foodie travelers.
Here are our top recommendations for dishes to try in Shiga Prefecture!
One of the top three brands of wagyu in Japan, Shiga Prefecture is rightly proud of its Omi beef. The region’s pure water and abundant nature makes it perfect for raising cattle. Thought to date back over 400 years, Omi beef’s fatty, red-and-white marbled appearance, delicate flavor, and melt-in-your-mouth texture have made it popular across the country. There are many different ways to prepare the meat, including as a steak, in a shabu shabu hotpot, sliced in a sukiyaki dish, or grilled yakiniku style – so try them all and find your favorite!
If you’re wondering what to eat in Shiga when you want some soul-warming comfort food, look no further! Takashima chicken, also known as Takashima tonchan, is a local Shiga food with an authentic, home cooking vibe.
The speciality of the prefecture’s Takashima City, the chicken is seasoned with a sweet and spicy miso (fermented soybean) sauce and grilled to perfection. The meat can be enjoyed as a snack with beer, or mixed with noodles and vegetables like cabbage and carrots to make a more substantial meal.
Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan, and well-known for its biodiversity. This of course includes plenty of marine life, and the indigenous salmon (and their caviar) from Lake Biwa are considered to be a particular delicacy thanks to their lean, salmon-pink meat, exquisite taste, and rarity. The fish can be prepared in a variety of ways – such as smoked, grilled with salt, meuniere, deep-fried, or made into sashimi – so be sure to visit a variety of local restaurants and see which style you like best!
Funazushi is a style of sushi that’s unique to Shiga, and is made from funa fish (crucian carp) caught in the waters of Lake Biwa. Originally created as a way to preserve food before the advent of refrigeration, the fish is salted and aged for a year before being fermented in rice for a further two or three years. The resulting dish is somewhat of an acquired taste, with a strong flavor and tangy aroma akin to blue cheese, but definitely something you should take the chance to try during your Shiga travels!
This duck hotpot is a winter classic, and another staple of Shiga cuisine. The birds migrate to Lake Biwa at the end of every year, during which time local people would hunt them – although these days farmed birds are usually used to make the dish. In addition to the duck, which has a sweet taste and chewy texture, kamo nabe contains tofu and spring onions along with other vegetables in a soy-based soup. This creates a hearty and warming meal that’s just perfect for the cold months!
Somen are very thin noodles made from wheat flour that are enjoyed in all prefectures of Japan. Shiga’s yakisaba somen is a traditional dish that originates from Nagahama City, to the north of Lake Biwa. It’s made using grilled mackerel that’s slow-cooked in a sweet and savory broth of soy sauce, sake and sugar, and served on a bed of somen noodles. This same broth is also used to season the somen itself. The tender, flaky fish and simplicity of the noodles make a fantastic combination, full of nutrition and full-bodied flavor.
Yokan is a thick, jellied dessert made from red bean paste, agar and sugar. Shiga’s take on this sweet treat is known as decchi yokan, or "apprentice’s yokan," and involves wrapping the mix in bamboo leaves then steaming it. This gives the yokan a light taste that's not overly sweet, with a subtle scent and a thick, chewy texture. Try it with a bowl of matcha tea, or bring some home as a souvenir of your trip to Shiga, Japan. Just remember to unwrap it before eating!
Aka konnyaku, or red konjac, is a jelly-like food made from a type of yam, and is red in color due to its high iron content. It’s a traditional ingredient used in a lot of Shiga cuisine, particularly in the town of Omi Hachiman. Aka konnyaku is extremely versatile, and can be used in a wide range of dishes, such as oden and sashimi, or served on its own as an appetizer. It has a soft, smooth and chewy texture, vibrant red color, and is particularly popular due to its low calorie content!
From locally-sourced fish and duck dishes like funazushi and kamo nabe to traditional decchi yokan sweets, this picturesque prefecture has plenty of mouthwatering local cuisine to sample during your stay. So now you know what to eat in Shiga in between exploring the majesty of Hikone Castle, the ninja town of Koka, and the historic capital city of Otsu! Enjoy your travels in this scenic region of Japan.