by Rie – JAPANiCAN.com Staff
During May, when Sendai’s trees were sprouting their fresh green leaves, we went to visit the city to research our Sendai special report, and found a city blessed with fine ingredients from the sea and the surrounding mountains in Miyagi Prefecture. There was no lack of delicious food, and here is just a selection of the great eating on offer.
Kokubuncho: Sendai’s Restaurant and Entertainment Capital
The Kokubuncho district, with Kokubun-dori Street at its heart, is packed with over 3,000 bars and restaurants. The area is located just 15 min on foot from Sendai Station. Sendai’s largest entertainment district comes alive with colorful neon billboards at sunset and is packed until late at night, giving the place its own unique atmosphere.
After sunset, I was shown by some locals down a side alley to the second floor of an old multi-tenant building. The neat curtain at the shop entrance led into a Japanese restaurant called Onoya, which specializes in fish and tofu; apparently this was the first tofu-based restaurant in Sendai. The place had a cozy atmosphere, and the meal I had consisted of mainly locally produced ingredients and fresh seafood sashimi such as puffer fish, octopus, and flounder.
Whilst it can be hard to find places off the beaten path that are not in the guidebooks, it is definitely worth asking the locals or at the front desk of your hotel for recommendations.
2nd Floor, Miyako Building, 2-12-20 Kokubuncho, Aoba-ku, Sendai City
Opening hours: 5:30 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Closed on Sundays and National Holidays)
The next day I went to the famous Sandwich Hosoya burger restaurant for lunch. I sat at the small restaurant’s counter and ordered a Jumbo Burger, also known as the Sendai Burger (JPY 600), which the owner started cooking for me there and then. When the burger arrived, the large patty was sticking out of the bun! I took a bite and the burger was nice and juicy, and just the right softness. The burger comes topped with lettuce and raw onion, and is also available for take-out.
I happened to turn the burger over, to find the words “Hosoya 1950” seared into the bottom of the bun. That means that the father and son team who work here have owned this place since it was established 60 years ago!
1st Floor O-uchi Building, 2-10-7 Kokubuncho, Aoba-ku, Sendai City
Opening hours: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (Open every day of the year)
Try Sendai Beef, Curry Style
Whilst Sendai is known as being the originator of the now-well-known local specialty of beef tongue, a local recommended to me that I try fine-quality Sendai beef. With that, I found an appealing Sendai beef curry at a restaurant called Grill Hachi. I was split between the curry and the Sendai beef stew or steak, but given my budget I ordered the curry (JPY 1,680). The curry sauce was nice and light, and the high-quality beef was soft; a good old-fashioned, tasty meal. And as an extra unexpected surprise, there was all-you-can-eat salad with a choice of three sauces.
5th Floor Kurax Building, 3-3-1 Ichiban-cho, Aoba-ku, Sendai City
Opening hours: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Last orders: 10:00 p.m.) (Open every day of the year)
Samurai Rice Ball: The Musubi-maru Station Lunch Box
Miyagi Prefecture has created a special, very Japanese-style cutesy character called Musubi-maru to help promote tourism in the Sendai area. The character has a rice-ball-shaped head made from delicious Miyagi rice, with a crescent-shape stuck to his forehead similar to that found on the helmet of the famous samurai and lord of Sendai, Date Masamune.
I heard that Musubi-maru had been made into an ekiben (a lunchbox that can be bought at stations, which contains local specialties), so I had to try it. The lunchbox, called the Musubi-maru O-musubi Bento (JPY 840), only went on sale in May. The lunchbox of course contains a cute Musubi-maru rice ball, as well as a very satisfying range of other locally produced side dishes. If you see the lunchbox kiosk in JR Sendai Station, try it out – but get there early, because they are popular and tend to sell out!
You can meet a full-sized Musubi-maru in the lobby of the Miyagi Prefectural Office.
After going to research the Sendai Mediatheque, walking down Jozenji-dori Avenue I saw the delicious-looking pudding pictured on a yellow billboard.
The pudding specialty store Purin-ya sells the local Sendai Pudding (JPY 200, the front of the two desserts pictured) made from high-quality milk and eggs from the Zao area. The rear of the two desserts pictured is the rich Purin-ya Pudding (JPY 350), made with high-quality wasanbon sugar. The shop keeper who started this chain was someone who loved desserts and just wanted to open a shop that specialized in desserts; this now their third shop! To get here, take the subway to Kotodai Park Station, and then walk west two blocks on Jozenji-dori Avenue.
The next day, when I was walking around the second floor of JR Sendai Station where the local specialty souvenirs are sold, I found a dessert called Zunda Pudding, made with edamame beans (JPY 231). I had no hesitation in buying it as it was made by the Kashosanzen company, famous for making the Sendai specialty cake, Hagi-no-tsuki. Under a layer of fresh cream there was a thick pudding with a rich, slightly sweet edamame taste. If you like sweets, try it out!