There's quite a number of food specialties to watch out for in Nagasaki and so I'm going to dedicate a post just for that today.
First, something that you can actually bring home as a souvenir: Nagasaki's yummy Castella cake.
The castella cake (カステラ, Kasutera) is a popular Japanese sponge cake made with flour, sugar, eggs and a bit of starch. There's debate as to whether the cake has its origins as Portuguese or Spanish with the popular version being the Portuguese merchants bringing with them a cake called Pão de Castela, or “bread from Castile”, named after a region of central Spain.
Castella cakes can now be easily found in Nagasaki, especially along popular tourist destinations and in souvenir shops. Most come packaged in long, rectangular boxes. Awesome as it's easier to pack them into the luggage. The cake also comes in a variety of flavours with the more common ones such as matcha, honey and chocolate.
In the short time that we were in Nagasaki, my parents and I tried so many different brands and flavours of castella cakes from various shops. Our unanimous choice: the original flavoured ones from Bunmeido (文明堂). Amazingly soft and the sweetness was just nice. My dad liked the matcha ones. Great if you're a matcha fan since it was literally a burst of matcha in the mouth with every bite taken. Unfortunately, I'm not and so dad lost out to me and mom on what to buy back. Heh.
There's plenty of Bunmeido outlets all over Nagasaki and you probably can also get them at the airport. We happened to get ours at the outlet that's just next to the Peace Park (pictured in photo above). Totally convenient if you're going to drop by the Peace Park or the Atomic Bomb Museum. And the sales people were the ever gracious Japanese sort, they let us try almost everything and even worked out the expiry dates for us.
The castella cakes from Bunmeido come in yellow boxes. I've circled it in red in the photo below for your reference.
If you prefer something more savoury or if you like your meat, you may wish to try the kakuni manju (角煮). Kakuni is a Japanese braised pork dish that is very similar to the Chinese Dong Bo Pork. Not surprising since this dish has its roots with the Chinese merchants who came to Nagasaki. The Japanese version is cooked in dashi, mirin, soy sauce, sugar and sake, and is milder in taste compared to the Chinese Dong Bo Pork.
Kakuni manju is then a slice of the tender, braised pork placed in-between a soft, steamed white bun (see photo below). The one I had from a stall near my hotel was absolutely delicious. I forgot to grab a picture of the stall (that was how much I fell in love with the pork bun) but I can give you the directions:
Locate the hotel Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill. This is a hotel that is right at the base of Oura Cathedral and Glover Garden. Next to the hotel is a walkway lined with shops that leads to both attractions. The shop from which I purchased the buns is located at the base of this shopping street (starting from the hotel). It's one of the first 4 stalls and the first one that you hit from the base of the shopping street.
Simply awesome melt-in-your-mouth goodness. My mom and I wanted to share another one but we had already grabbed the last two available before the shop's closing.
Alternatively, this dish can also be found in the many restaurants in Nagasaki Chinatown. We were so impressed with it that when we were in Chinatown, we ordered the dish again. Unfortunately, we very much preferred the one we had from the stall near our hotel.
Next up on my list of recommendation is something that is touted as a Nagasaki's regional cuisine. In fact, it's almost a mantra I heard from various friends and colleagues who found out that I was visiting Nagasaki: "When in Nagasaki, eat Champon".
Champon was first served by Shikairo (四海楼), a Chinese restaurant in Nagasaki. You probably also guessed it, it's yet another dish that's inspired by Chinese cuisine. Champon is prepared by frying pork, seafood and vegetables with lard. A broth made by boiling chicken and pig bones is then added. The last item that is added to the soup is the special champon noodles.
Since Shikairo was located right opposite our hotel, it became a no-brainer that we just had to try the champon at the original store! Unfortunately, I found the place a tourist trap. I didn't like the food we ordered. The sweet and sour pork was over-fried and most dishes were just bland. Portions were more than decent though and definitely filling. While my parents and I didn't mind the champon, we all agreed that an earlier meal we had at another Chinese restaurant was way better. To us, champon wasn't really worth the hype but the sunset view at Shikairo made up for it.
If you only had time for one meal in Nagasaki though, I would recommend instead that you try the lesser known sara udon (see photo above). This is another native noodle dish, and is basically fried noodles topped with stir-fried vegetables, seafood and pork.
We tried ours at a restaurant called Horaiken Bekkan (宝来軒別館). This was an amazing Internet find that's located near the Atomic Bomb Museum. When you see locals taking up table spaces, you can be sure that the food is great. My parents and I loved every single dish we ordered, and to this day, my mom fondly remembers the sara udon that we tried.
So, if you're visiting Nagasaki soon, don't forget to try these 4 Nagasaki specialty dishes!
Local name: 文明堂
There are many Bunmeido outlets in Nagasaki but here, I've included the address of the main store. You may wish to google to check if there are any outlets near your hotel or place-of-attraction you plan to visit.
Address: 1-1 Edomachi, Nagasaki
Local address: 江戸町1-1
DID: +81 95-824-0002
Local name: 四海樓
Address: 4-5 Matsugae-machi, Nagasaki 850-0921
Local address: 〒850-0921松が枝町4-5
DID: +81 95-822-1296
Local name: 宝来軒別館
Address: 5-23 Hiranomachi, Nagasaki 852-8117
Local address: 〒852-8117平野町5-23
DID: +81 95-846-2277