What do locals crave when far from home? Discover the most delicious, authentic and inexpensive foods from across Gunma
Last updated: May 06, 2022
Gunma’s landscapes are more than beautiful; they’re also ideal for cultivating a wide variety of ingredients that have helped shape the prefecture’s cuisine culture. Sunny weather, nutrient-rich soil, differences in elevation, and an abundance of fresh water have helped agriculture and farming industries thrive. Regional specialties vary, from wheat and cabbage to konnyaku (or konjak, a gelatinous yam cake), to premium meats like beef and pork. This regionality, or terroir, has given rise to “B Gourmet,” inexpensive local specialties you won’t find anywhere else. Read on to learn about ten authentic local dishes to try as you explore Gunma.
Gunma is one of Japan’s leading producers of wheat, which has had a major impact on cuisine throughout the prefecture. The city of Takasaki is referred to as “Pasta Town,” and is famous across Japan for the large number of pasta restaurants. They are so serious about pasta that every year they host an annual King of Pasta competition to see which restaurant’s pasta dishes reign supreme. If you want to try homemade pasta at a reasonable price, stop by Shango, a short walk from JR Takasakitonyamachi Station. Shango has spread the culture of pasta across Takasaki since it opened around 50 years ago. Signature dishes include "Shango-style" spaghetti with a satisfyingly thick and rich meat sauce, topped with a crisp and juicy fried pork cutlet. Seafood lovers should order "Vesuvius," widely considered the classic pasta dish of Takasaki. This spicy take on pescatore sauce piled high with fresh seafood is said to have originated at Shango, and is now offered at restaurants around Takasaki including Buongiorno, a popular restaurant which has won the King of Pasta competition several times.
Another wheat-based favorite, yakimanju is a dish that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868) and has been a staple in Gunma ever since. These dumpling-like buns are skewered on a stick, covered in a sweet miso sauce, and roasted over hot charcoal for a savory-sweet snack with a little bit of chew. The abundance of good quality water gave rise to a local brewing culture for making sake, miso and soy sauce which add an extra flavor dimension to local dishes and make an ideal souvenir to take home from Maebashi.
While sauce katsudon is now a dish you can find in any corner of Japan, Kiryu is said to be one of the cities that pioneered this popular dish. Sauce katsudon consists of a breaded and fried tender pork cutlet, topped with a savory-sweet sauce, served over rice. Restaurants in the city use Gunma pork, valued for its soft texture and delicate flavor. The sauce can be soy-sauce-based or Worcestershire sauce. Each restaurant has its own sauce variation, so try as many as you can to find your favorite. Another local specialty is kororin shumai. These tasty snacks look like Chinese shumai dumplings, but are actually made from potato, onion and starch, with pork fat for extra flavor, topped with nori flakes and served with a tasty sauce. Kororin shumai are said to have first become popular after WWII, and are now a nostalgic treat sold in local stores.
Horumon is a blanket term for offal, but Tomioka’s signature dish horumon-age has a little secret—it isn’t deep-fried offal, as its name suggests, but is in fact chikuwa fish cake, covered in breadcrumbs, skewered, and fried. This cheap and tasty snack is a favorite among local children, and each shop serves these tasty treats with its own special Worcestershire sauce blend.
Monja-yaki is a savory dish comprised of various of ingredients in a fried batter that can be found throughout the country, but Gunma has its own twist on the dish in the form of Isesaki monja. The dish is covered with a unique sauce made from spicy curry powder, soy sauce, and strawberry syrup. Isesaki Monja was served at candy stores in the area during the Showa era (1926–1989), and these days it is enjoyed as a nostalgic throwback to a simpler time.
The city of Ota is an industrial center with many factories. Workers moved to the area while business was booming, giving rise to one of Japan’s three major types of yakisoba: Joshu Ota Yakisoba. What sets these thick soba noodles apart is the unique black color, derived from its sweet and spicy sauce. The dish is cheap, delicious, and filling, which is why it has maintained its popularity over the years.
If you still haven’t had your fill of delicious Gunma pork, stop by Numata. This town is on a local route called the Joshu Numata Tonkatsu Highway, where many restaurants serve tonkatsu. For a sweet treat, try another local specialty: miso pan. This homemade bread is filled with a sweet paste made from red miso and brown sugar, and makes a great snack.
Strolling around the steaming yubatake hot spring field of Kusatsu Onsen is an iconic experience you can only have in Gunma. While there, keep an eye out for a local dish that takes full advantage of the hot springs—onsen manju. These buns, which originated in Ikaho Onsen, are made with brown sugar and a lightly sweet bean paste, steamed to perfection in wooden boxes. Each shop adds their own nuance, so try to find your favorite.
The Ishidan (Stone Steps) are an iconic symbol of another of Gunma’s onsen towns, Ikaho. While strolling up and down the 365 steps in this retro hot spring resort, be sure to try the local specialty, Ishidan Tama Konnyaku. Gunma Prefecture is the country’s leading producer of konnyaku, and these hot, round yam cakes are steeped in a delicious soy sauce served three to a skewer. Feel free to accent it with spicy mustard or dried chili.
While Minakami is an area of natural beauty, its landscapes are also associated with five major dams in the area. Using the dams as a motif, restaurants in the area serve a fun twist on curry, one of Japan’s most popular dishes. The rice resembles the arched wall of the dams, and is arranged to block off the curry in the bowl, like water in a reservoir. In addition to its visual appeal, no two restaurants use the same recipe, so there are almost endless variations on the theme.