Yamagata’s local dishes are all about heart and soul. Some of the prefecture’s most famous recipes have been handed down by families for generations and use ingredients that only locals know. The prefecture’s geographic location ensures that it has access to fresh ingredients, which is no surprise considering Yamagata is called the “Food Kingdom” of Japan. As a result, food is a significant part of Yamagata’s history and culture. If you’re looking for warm, wholesome dishes that feel like home, Yamagata is the right place!
There's no reason to go hungry in Yamagata. One popular dish is imoni, a hearty stew made with taro root, beef, onions and a variety of different vegetables. It is often served with miso paste or a soy-sauce based broth. The warm dish can be found everywhere in autumn and is so beloved by locals that they throw ‘imoni parties’ (芋煮会 imoni-kai) to enjoy the soup with their friends and family. The area also hosts the annual Autumn Imon Festival at the Mamigasaki River, where imoni is cooked in a giant iron pot and handed out to the thousands of visitors. If you’re ever in Yamagata during autumn, this wholesome meal is bound to warm you up during the season.
There's no need to go to Kobe for beef when the local Yonezawa breed is considered one of Japan's best, and you'll find it in Yamagata at a much more affordable price. One of the reasons this beef is so celebrated is its marbling, which is a remarkable balance of meat to fat that makes for a delicious eating experience. Farmers accomplish this exquisite marbling by raising cows on strict routines of eating rice straw infused with healthy minerals and lengthening their fattening period to 32 months instead of the typical few. The two most popular ways to enjoy Yonesawa beef are yakiniku (焼肉 grilled meats) or sukiyaki (すき焼き hotpot). People will travel to Yamagata just to try Yonezawa beef, so make sure to enjoy it!
Make sure to watch out for tama konnyaku at festivals, a beloved dish made from the plant known as devil's tongue and often grilled and served on a stick. Typically a popular dessert snack, Yamagata makes konnyaku a little different from Japan’s typical sweets. The dish is cooked in soy sauce broth and then garnished with a little mustard. You won’t find this Yamagata original recipe anywhere else in Japan, making it a regional favorite.
Yet another thing Yamagata is famous for is its fruit production, specifically its cherries. Known for their bright red color, the fruit is cherished in the prefecture due to its sweetness and juicy flavor. They are perfectly ripe with little acidity, making them ideal for making parfaits and other cherry-based desserts. If you’re interested in learning more about this prefecture’s signature fruit, visit Oshokahu Orchards or Yamadera for the beautiful sights of cherry orchards.
Ita soba is a type of soba that is quite common in Japan and traditionally served in a wooden box (板 ita), hence the name. Yamagata is considered the ‘holy land’ of soba and for good reason. Yamagata’s soba is known to be thicker and chewier than other variations, making it all the more delicious. The prefecture has many restaurants that have mastered the art of soba-making, and they can commonly be found on the "Yamagata Big Three Soba Highway" (山形三大そば街道 Yamagata San-dai Soba Kaidō), a series of roads filled with famous soba restaurants. In this area, you’ll find the most famous three soba places in Yamagata: Murayama, Oishida (大石田), and Obanazawa (尾花沢) along the Mogami River basin.