Japan loves to buy food online – the thousands of gourmet merchants on Rakuten Ichiba are enough to prove that. There’s just one problem: you can’t sample the foods through the internet (not just yet, anyway). So how do you know whether what you’re buying tastes as good as it looks?
For the past seven years, Rakuten Ichiba has been working to address this gap by bringing Rakuten Ichiba’s merchants together to show off their culinary prowess at the Umaimono Taikai, a festival of food designed to give customers a taste of merchants’ online catalogs. The event has so far taken place 22 times in different cities across Japan – and attracted hundreds of thousands of avid foodies in total.
Last month’s Umaimono Taikai in Nagoya was a great success: 76 of Rakuten’s gourmet merchants were selected to present their most delicious creations to the enthusiastic crowds of food fanatics, many of whom lined up for over an hour to satisfy their culinary cravings.
For those who couldn’t make it, never fear: Here is our rundown of some of our favorite flavors from Nagoya:
Donburi is an essential part of any Japanese food-lover’s vocabulary. Consisting of meat or fish served over a bowl of rice, the humble donburi can be found just about anywhere in Japan. The folks at Tsukiji Ryotei, however, took it to another level, serving a sashimi-adorned donburi (above left) with over 20 different types of seafood. Believe it or not, there actually is rice hidden beneath all that fish.
Yokohama Chinatown’s beloved Wang Fu Jing provided their particularly juicy version of a steamed dumpling (above center), a crowd favorite that has won them the Umaimono Taikai Grand Prize numerous times in the past. The aroma of freshly cooked dumplings reportedly had stomachs rumbling throughout the venue.
Visitors also had the opportunity to indulge in some gourmet noodles: legendary noodle-makers Tomita and Kaminari journeyed all the way from Chiba Prefecture, next to Tokyo, to offer up their tsukemen and tonkotsu ramen (above right) for the lucky Nagoyans – or at least for those lucky enough to get a seat.
And there was another alternative take on a local favorite: two of Rakuten Ichiba’s top Kobe Beef specialists joined forces to fill a steamed bun with Kobe wagyu and a soft-boiled egg (above left). Visitors were eager to get their hands on one while they could – the unique creation was a one-off collaboration exclusive to the event.
“Dried sweet potato” might not sound like something you would want for dessert – but that’s only because you haven’t tried it. This mouthwatering Japanese delicacy (above right) from potato confectioner Oimoya has proved to be a serious crowd-pleaser, winning the overall Umaimono Taikai Grand Prize four years in a row. Some years have seen customers line up for as long as three hours just to get a taste!
Then there were dried persimmons filled with candied chestnut paste (above center) – visitors were thrilled to get a taste of this rare creation, as it isn’t commonly found in shops.
The flavors of the event weren’t just limited to traditional Japanese cuisine – heavy doses of exotic western culture were also dished out in the form of edible “ice cream cone shots” (above left), coated with different types of chocolate on a solid chocolate base. Fans of the movement were excited to get a taste of the instagenic treat, which has seen long lines form outside its creator’s shop in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district.
And, finally, what would any festival of food be without a proper dose of matcha? Kyoto matcha specialist Itoh Kyuemon thrilled visitors with their matcha-infused bean paste-filled daifuku (above right) – the perfect companion to a nice cup of tea after a long day of overeating.