In the Tohoku region of northern Japan, Akita Prefecture is famous for its abundant nature, hot springs, and the adorable Akita Inu dog. Akita also boasts a rich cuisine culture, the star of which is the humble “kiritanpo,” a traditional food made from half-mashed steamed rice wrapped on a stick and roasted over a charcoal fire.
Many travelers visit Akita just to try kiritanpo, and eateries are selling it all throughout the prefecture.
Here, we’ll dive into the history of kiritanpo along with how to make it and some highly recommended restaurants serving it!
Top image: PIXTA

What Is Kiritanpo?

(Image: Akita Specialty Hometown Odate Kiritanpo Association)

A “tanpo” is made of coarsely mashed rice wrapped around a stick of cedarwood and roasted. A “kiritanpo” is created when a tanpo is cut, although many people simply call both varieties “kiritanpo,” whether cut or not.
The Japanese kanji for tanpo is “短穂,” which means “short rice plant” named from the obvious resemblance.
Being made from rice, they have a springy texture with a mild, sweet taste and mouth-watering aroma when roasted.
They can be added to hotpots or flavored with miso paste and are considered a staple household dish in northern Akita, however, they can be easily found all throughout the prefecture.

The Birth of Kiritanpo

(Image: PIXTA)

There are several theories explaining the origins of kiritanpo. One claims that farmers holed up in the mountains to make charcoal or hunt would knead leftover rice and add it to chicken hotpots or eat it with miso paste.
Another suggests that it was a common preserved food for the “matagi,” who were traditional winter hunters from the Tohoku region. Depending on the area, the story will likely change.

How to Kiritanpo is Made

(Image: Akita Specialty Hometown Odate Kiritanpo Association)

Kiritanpo recipes differ slightly depending on the region and individual store. Here we’ll introduce a recipe shared with us by the Odate Kiritanpo Association, which is based in the city of Odate, considered the home of kiritanpo.
First, prepare a mortar, pestle, wooden cedar skewers, and charcoal, along with rice and saline water.
Kiritanpo Recipe
1. Steam rice until it is a little hard, then move it to a mortar and mash it with a pestle. When mashing, try to ensure that each piece of rice is cut roughly in half. You can continue until you feel a stickiness; however, don’t mash it into a paste, like mochi.
2. Once it is all reasonably sticky, make “onigiri” rice balls around 100 grams in size and wrap them around the cedar wood skewers. Of course, if you can’t find cedarwood (preferably sourced from Akita for complete authenticity), then ske…

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