Taste Gunma’s culture and history in these delicious dishes
Last updated: December 21, 2020
Gunma’s cuisine is defined by its natural surroundings. Local ingredients shine in meals at all price points, from multi-course dinners at luxury ryokan inns to a quick lunch at a roadside restaurant.
These ten delicacies are the most representative dishes of Gunma’s food culture. Some are specialties of certain towns, while others are found throughout the prefecture. Sample these dishes as you explore the area for a taste of life in Gunma.
Manju are a sweet snack eaten in every corner of Japan but particularly beloved in Gunma. Two versions of the dumpling-like bun originated here. Yakimanju are un-filled buns that are skewered, covered in a sweet miso sauce, and roasted over charcoal. The unique sauce and cooking method give yakimanju a chewy texture and slightly savory twist. Onsen manju are found in many hot spring resorts but are believed to have originated in Ikaho Onsen. This softer version has a brown skin that mimics the golden water of Ikaho's onsen water. It is filled with sweet red bean paste and steamed.
Konnyaku is a chewy, gelatinous food made from the root vegetable of the same name (also called konjac). It is essentially calorie-free and nearly flavorless, although its chewy, gelatinous texture and adaptability allow it to take center stage in a wide variety of dishes, including soups and stews. It can also be made into noodles, called shirataki.
Gunma produces more of this healthy, low-carb, vegan-friendly food than any other prefecture. Konnyaku features in traditional Gunma meals served at high-end ryokan and casual eateries alike. Head to Konnyaku Park to see konnyaku production and even try making it yourself.
Gunma has a long history of wheat production, which has resulted in udon noodles being particularly popular in the prefecture. Two local versions have gained national recognition: Mizusawa udon and himokawa udon.
Mizusawa udon is a specialty of Ikaho Onsen, where shops serving the dish line a street adjacent to Mizusawa Kannon Temple. The noodles are made only with pure water, high-quality wheat, and salt, resulting in a firm texture and semi-transparent appearance. They are usually served cold with soup for dipping on the side.
Himokawa udon, a specialty of Kiryu, is characterized by its extreme width—some noodles are up to 10 centimeters wide. They are also extremely thin, and this odd shape contributes to their unusual texture. Like other types of udon, himokawa can be served cold or hot, with dipping sauces or in soups.
Okkirikomi is a hearty stew dish native to Gunma. Wide udon noodles, made with only flour and water, are cooked together with local, seasonal vegetables in a soy sauce-based soup. Miso-based soups and soups that combine soy sauce and miso, are also available. Okkirikomi is especially appealing as a way to warm up on cold days.
Sukiyaki is a hot pot-style dish popular around Japan but particularly beloved in Gunma. The meal consists of beef, tofu, vegetables, mushrooms, and shirataki (konnyaku noodles) cooked in a broth of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Many restaurants and ryokan inns around Gunma serve sukiyaki made exclusively with ingredients produced in the prefecture.
Some parts of Gunma have their own takes on katsudon, a dish of fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu) over rice enjoyed throughout Japan. Katsudon in the town of Shimonita is much lighter than elsewhere; the cutlets are dipped in a soy-based sauce and served without egg, a common ingredient in other versions of the dish. This recipe is believed to have existed in the area for at least 100 years. The “sauce katsudon” of Kiryu is similarly simple. Smaller cuts of pork are deep-fried, coated in a tangy sauce, and piled atop white rice.
The Joshu Numata Tonkatsu Highway, a stretch of road from the Numata Interchange to Fukiware no Taki Falls, is lined with many shops selling fried pork cutlets. Many of these shops feature locally raised pork.
There are several fruit varieties that originated in Gunma prefecture. One of those is Yayoihime strawberries. About 80 percent of strawberries cultivated in Gunma are of the Yayoihime variety, and they are prized for their large size and rich, balanced taste. While other strawberry varieties in Japan tend to decline in quality after March, Yayoihime are delicious during the entire December–May season. Most Yayoihime strawberries are sold directly at local farms and farmer’s markets. Several farms and facilities offer the opportunity to pick your own strawberries.
Early September to late November is the season to try Gunma Meigetsu apples, which are a distinctive yellow color when ripe. The mountainous climate of the region is the secret of their juicy, sweet flavor. Apple picking is a popular activity in Gunma and the best way to try Gunma Meigetsu at their freshest.
“Ginhikari” refers to the highest grade of selectively farmed rainbow trout in Gunma. These fish achieve a high-fat content and buttery mouthfeel thanks to a long maturation period of three years. The red, delicate meat is especially delicious as sashimi, which can be found at restaurants and ryokan inns around Gunma, including Kawaba Denen Plaza Roadside Station.
Senbei are Japanese rice crackers, and each region has its own take. Isobe senbei, a subtly sweet version, are the most popular snack and gift from Isobe Onsen. These crackers are made using spring water, flour, and sugar. Stroll around the town and sample senbei from various shops along the way.
Try exceptional quality koshihikari rice—a Japanese short-grain rice cultivar—from Kawaba. This delicious rice is grown using the mineral-rich waters of Mt. Hotaka. You can try it at Kawaba Denen Plaza Roadside Station and other locations to see for yourself why it has won gold in numerous rice competitions across the country.