Written by Lisa Wallin
Yokkaichi City in Mie’s northern area is famous for “tonteki,” or pork steak. The name comes from the phonetic reading of “ton” (pork) and “teki” (steak). It’s a popular so-called “stamina” dish, meaning it helps revive you, especially in hot summers. This hearty meal was served at some restaurants such as the Chinese restaurant Rairaiken in Nishishinchi, which opened in the 1950s. Later, another restaurant, Matsumoto no Rairaiken, whose owner was trained at the Nishishinchi’s Rairaiken, started business and put tonteki on the menu in 1978. It became an instant hit, drawing fans from all over Japan. The recipe spread across the country and different regions started making their own take on it, but for the original Yokkaichi tonteki, you’ll have to come to Yokkaichi City. Matsumoto no Rairaiken’s dai-tonteki is a classic — 250 grams of thick pork shoulder grilled to perfection and covered in garlic and sauce. However, you’ll find equally delicious versions at other restaurants across the city.
What makes a tonteki dish a Yokkaichi tonteki, you ask? Well, there are a few criteria:1) Must include thick slices of sauteed pork
2) It is slathered in a rich and fragrant Worcestershire sauce-based sauce
3) There is plenty of garlic garnish
4) It is usually accompanied by a portion of shredded cabbage
Here you can find a map showing restaurants serving tonteki around Yokkaichi City. (Japanese only)
“Gyoza,” or pan-fried dumplings, are juicy, crispy and delicious. However, don’t expect your average pot sticker when ordering this local specialty — Tsu gyoza are deep-fried and as big as the palm of your hand! Originally created in 1985 as part of an initiative by the local board of education to create healthy and appetizing school lunch menus, Tsu gyoza was a fast favorite among youths across the city.
Finally, in 2008, it was made available at the annual Tsu Festival and it was, yet again, a smash hit! It sold out completely over the two days and its popularity was reignited among the adults who missed it. Now there are many restaurants serving this delightful snack across the city. For locals it’s a taste of nostalgia and many of them reminisce about their school days as they chow down. For the rest of us, it’s a new and exciting take on a familiar side dish. You can find more about Tsu gyoza here. (Japanese only)
While you’re in Tsu, don’t forget to try this other local dish: unagi(eel)!
Matsusaka Chicken BBQ (Chicken BBQ Marinated in Miso)
Matsusaka City is famous for its world-class Matsusaka Beef, but if you’re looking for Matsusaka’s soul food, then you’ll find it in Matsusaka chicken BBQ (sometimes also known as “chicken yakiniku”). Many farmers in the suburbs of Matsusaka raised chickens for eggs, but once their egg-laying days were over, it was customary for the farmers to grill and eat them. As the years passed, more and more restaurants started serving grilled chicken, which was considered more easily available than beef. The miso sauce — usually using “akamiso” (red miso) — is an indispensable ingredient for this local dish. The chicken is marinated in a salty-sweet miso sauce, which enhances the natural flavors of the chicken and adds to the meal’s mouth-wateringly rich aroma. Like Yokkaichi tonteki, there are some criteria for the meal to be considered “proper” Matsusaka chicken BBQ:
1) It must use miso sauce, usually the regional akamiso
2) It should be cooked on a metal grill mesh
3) It is served at a restaurant that specializes in grilled chicken (it’s either the first thing on the menu, or the only thing)
You can find out a map of restaurants serving Matsusaka chicken BBQ here. (Japanese only)