The 1st UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in
Tsuruoka provides a convenient gateway for visitors to taste and experience its rich food culture throughout the year. Its wide range of seasonal ingredients include mountain vegetables and mushrooms from the mountains; rice, bamboo shoots, and edamame soybeans from the plains; cherry salmon and winter cod from the Sea of Japan.
Notable amongst the array of ingredients available in this region are varieties of heirloom crops unique to and grown exclusively in Tsuruoka. There are over 60 different varieties cultivated here. This is unrivalled worldwide in terms of the number of species grown in a single area, and garnered Tsuruoka due acclaim. As each heirloom variety requires different cultivation methods and conditions to bring out their unique characteristics, knowledge of how to care for them has been passed down for generations.
Food is intimately linked to the religious and spiritual side of Tsuruoka City, such as with Kurokawa Noh of the Kurokawa area, and Japanese mountain ascetism (Shugendō) of the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa (Dewa sanzan). Buddhist vegetarian dishes and other local dishes feature heavily in traditional celebrations and rituals, preserving customs that have been in place since the days of their conception/their very beginnings.
Known in Japanese as shōjin ryōri, refers to traditional cuisine eaten by Buddhist monks in Japan. This type of cuisine in Tsuruoka revolves around seasonal ingredients such as wild vegetables, as well as herbs and mushrooms gathered from the mountains, reflecting its close relationship with its surrounding Three Sacred Mountains, a sacred place of pilgrimage for mountain monks (yamabushi).
Even today, households in Tsuruoka continue to serve seasonal festive local dishes, a practice that has been preserved for generations. These dishes are prepared specially for the event they correspond to, and use ingredients with time-honoured significance.
Tsuruoka has a total of seven sake breweries producing high-quality sake that is not only known for their good quality within the prefecutre, but is also highly regarded throughout Japan. In perfecting their craft, these breweries have both supported the local economy of Tsuruoka for over 400 years, and have also become a feature in making it a valuable source of traditional culture in the region.