The Food Culture of Nagasaki City
In addition to benefiting from an abundance of seafood and local delicacies, Nagasaki boasts a unique cuisine that benefits from Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese influences.
Castella (Sponge Cake) - This ever-changing Nagasaki confection remains immensely popular
Castella is a type of sponge cake introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the mid-16th century. It is believed to have been developed in Spain and Portugal. The first castella recipe that came to Japan called for mixing equal parts of three ingredients - flour, sugar and eggs - and cooking the mixture in a covered steam cooking pot (either rectangular or round) with fire both above and below. Beginning in the early Edo period, the recipe gradually evolved with the addition of starch syrup as sweetener and other ingredients. The recipe continued to be improved until the development of today's uniquely moist Japanese castella. "Nagasaki castella" remains immensely popular as a souvenir of Nagasaki, and city residents take great pride in it. Moreover, each producer continues to prepare modern castella with many innovations while respecting the traditional flavor.
Chanpon - Hearty chanpon noodles that embody the culture of Nagasaki
Nagasaki chanpon was created when Chin Heijun, a Chinese restaurant owner in Shikairo, suggested a cheap and nutritious dish for visiting Chinese students who lived frugally at the time. The first version was just a simple combination of pork and bamboo shoots, but eventually it came to include locally abundant ingredients and seafood such as squid, oysters, and shrimp harvested from Nagasaki's coastal waters. Also characteristic is the unique flavor achieved by adding Chinese lye to the noodles, which is normally included in the skins of Chinese dumplings. The origin of the word "chanpon" is the Fujian word shapon, which means "to eat a meal." Some believe it combines the sound of the Chinese bell, chan, and the pon sound of Japanese drums. One can say that Nagasaki's chanpon is a specialty born in Nagasaki yet matured under the influence of its creators, ingredients, and environment.
Shippoku - The ultimate Nagasaki cuisine blending the best from Japan, China, and the West
Shippoku cuisine is an original creation of the Chinese living in the Chinese quarter. While it was intended to entertain Japanese and Western visitors, it spread to common households and evolved into a feast that is presented in traditional Japanese restaurants even today. The primary characteristic of Shippoku cuisine is jikabashi, the seating of the diners around a lacquered round table on which the food is served in one dish, with all diners serving themselves. This creates an atmosphere of omoyai (sharing) and contributes to a harmonious atmosphere. In addition, even before the toast, the custom is for the host to signal the start of the meal with mainly one phrase, "Please help yourself to the Ohire broth." Shippoku cuisine, which was introduced to Nagasaki, has evolved over the years with the blended influences of Japanese and Western cuisine. Today, it is a truly local cuisine of Nagasaki that combines the best of China, Japan, and the West.
Chinese Sweets - Familiar treats from China
It is believed that Chinese sweets were introduced to Japan by the Chinese during the Edo period, although they were first produced only for Chinese nationals. Today, more than a dozen types of products are customarily made, the most well known being the gold money cake, yoriyori, and moon cake. The yoriyori is also known as mafa (hemp flower), which was handed down from the Peking region in ancient times. Its name comes from its shape, which resembles that of hemp thread, known as yoriyori in Nagasaki. The gold money cake (kin sen pin) is made in the shape of ancient Chinese money, and is considered a lucky sweet. The moon cake (geppei) contains finely minced dates, nuts, and dried fruit as well as pork fat, all kneaded together with bean jam, wrapped in dough, and baked. These confections can be purchased in the new Chinatown and at souvenir stores.
The Loquat - The taste of early summer from Nagasaki
The original loquat (biwa) was a wild variety of fruit in Japan, but it is believed that the origin of the mogi loquat was a fruit brought from China on a Chinese ship between 1830 and 1840. A woman by the name of Miura Shio brought back the seeds for this Chinese loquat, and when she planted it in her brother's field in the village of Mogi, it thrived and bore sweet fruit. This was the first generation of the mogi loquat. Plant husbandry was later improved through grafting, and today the loquat, as the taste of early summer in Nagasaki, is a specialty in which the entire country takes pride. This full-flavored fruit is small yet sweet and is not only eaten raw but also processed into many sweet products such as jelly candy, while the leaves can be used for loquat tea. It is a product used in a wide range of Nagasaki souvenirs.
Kamaboko - The flavor essential to the Nagasaki table
The basic ingredients of kamaboko are fresh local fish such as lizardfish, horse mackerel, and sardines. The fish meat is minced, salted, and combined with seasonings. This mixture is well kneaded, shaped, and heated, but the type is determined by the heating method, whether steamed, grilled, deep-fried, or boiled. Steamed kamaboko is typically available in slab form and the grilled form is a type of fish sausage known as chikuwa, while date maki uses an abundance of eggs for the unique flavor of Nagasaki. Hanpen, an essential ingredient for chanpon noodle dishes and udon dishes, is boiled, while deep-fried kamaboko - which uses fresh-caught fish such as horse mackerel and sardines mashed along with the small bones and deep-fried - is also a popular product. In recent times, a succession of new products have come out, such as peach kamaboko, which includes peaches and is eaten at celebrations, and carp kamaboko for the Boy's Festival in May. These are curiously flavored types of kamaboko, and the flavor continues to evolve on a daily basis.