Kamakura Beer and White Bait Fish
Kamakura is a small town in the Kanagawa prefecture. If you have half a day away from Tokyo or are planning to go to Yokohama, take the time to venture out to Kamakura. It is a small town with a small town charm. Beautiful beaches, buddhist temples, and home of the Daibutsu, or big Buddha, this town is full of flavor.
You can find an assortment of your typical Japanese snacks throughout the town, especially on Komachi dori. But, when in Kamakura, you should try the local favorite shirasu, or white bait fish. These are tiny sardines that are translucent little fish that is typically eaten raw, boiled, or dried. This fish is a must try when in the area and the majority of the items on this list will contain white bait fish.
Another local favorite in the area is Kamakura Beer Brew Co. You won’t see Kirin and Sopporo around as much as you will see the local town brewery in many of the shops here. Two beers you will see throughout the town is Kamakura Star and Kamakura Moon. Kamakura Moon is an altbier or German brown ale. The Kamakura Star is a pale ale. They also make a Schwarzbier called Moonlight Rainbow and if you go visit Daibutsu, you will also find there Daibutsu beer sold in the gift shop.
So we found our local beer and an entire town of delicious and unique flavors to pair these beers with. Umami dominates in flavor in this list, but you will also find the sweet and the savory.
1. Rice Cracker
Just Northeast of Kamakura station, you will find a street called Komachi dori where most of the food on this list can be found. A few blocks down this street, you will find a rice cracker shop where you can get various rice crackers that are savory, salty, and sweet.
Handling all these flavors are not a problem with a Kamakura Star Pale Ale. The dry hoppiness will neutralize that palette and create balance to those strong umami flavors found in the rice cracker. Counter balancing each bite with a sip is ideal, but too methodical in my book, so I recommend taking moments to enjoy the beer without the umami as you watch the rice crackers being created.
Be sure to pick up a pack and then grab a freshly made rice cracker to eat now. While eating and sipping on a Kamakura beer, watch the master and learn and he crafts rice crackers which can be viewed from the outside window.
2. Shirasu Takoyaki
Further down Komachi dori and in an alleyway to the left, you will find various food stands. Amongst them, is a shop which makes shirasu takoyaki. This is our first dish which contains shirasu white bait fish.
Takoyaki is grilled balls of dough which contain octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion and covered in takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise. Shirasu takoyaki is simply the same thing with the white bait fish added as well. This is an excellent choice if you are hesitant about eating white fish at all simply because the takoyaki and mayo will be the dominant flavors in this dish.
For takoyaki, try another pale ale, the Daibutsu Bakushu Yukari. Pale Ales and lagers just seem to work with Japanese food so well and this is no exception. When you are dealing with umami, something light and refreshing with a dry hopped finish just rounds out a flavor like tokoyaki and Beni shōga (pickled ginger).
A reminder that trash cans aren’t in abundance in Japan, but you are still responsible for disposing of all your trash and is very bad not to do so. Don’t worry, sweet lady behind the shires takoyaki shop will gladly throw it away for you.
3. Shirasu Don
Don means over rice for the most part. Shirasu don is white bait fish over rice. Unable to find a stand that serves shirasu don, I opted for the sit down restaurant and ordered the various fish. A sort of omakase if you will containing of course the local favorite shirasu. The white bait fish in this dish was raw. There was disappointment when I found out that they did indeed serve the dish I was looking for, a mix of both boiled and raw shirasu. No worries, the addition of tuna and salmon were a nice change.
Although I didn’t get the opportunity at this place, I would suggest trying the Kamakura Moonlight Rainbow with this dish, or any don for that matter. It is schwarzbier so you get some deep roast flavors that you would find in a stout or porter, but without the overwhelming boldness. Like a stout light, this beer is great in the winter. Helps the rice go down. Try a bite without wasabi and soy sauce then take drink.
This is absolutely one of the most unique experiences I have encountered in Kamakura. On the other side of the town is where Kōtoku-in is located. Inside Kōtoku-in is the famous Daibutsu, or giant buddha statue.
After visit the big buddha, continue down the street heading south and your will find a man selling what looked like takoyaki out of a van. Upon further inspection, it isn’t really takoyaki, but a shirasu variant not takoyaki.
Unlike takoyaki, jacoyaki didn’t have mayonnaise or takoyaki sauce. Rather, the jacoyaki contained a lighter cooler sauce which reminded me of tatar sauce mixed with yuzu. Also in the jacoyaki was a a congealed sweet sauce. If I were to guess, it looked like the fast melted out of the white bait fish, sweetened, and cooled to create a gelatinous texture. Whatever it was, it tasted refreshing. Very refreshing. Flavors that reminded me of an old English style fish and chips place. But this wasn’t England, it was Japan, and the green onions and takoyaki shape are a reminder of where I am. What brought the entire dish together, however, was the charred white bait sprinkled on top.
This is such a unique dish that you may want to hold off on the pairing until you have a few balls in all its purity. Then, go with Daibutsu or the Moonlight Rainbow. Dark beers are great with fish and chips and considering the nostalgia on this English dish, it would make a good choice. You do still get some umami in these balls and if you are looking for a good contrast to that flavor, then stick with the pale ale.
5. Sakura Dongo
Okay this isn’t necessarily an pairing, but this is a great way to finish off your food and beer pairing adventure. Back on Komachi dori, you will find plenty of places that sell dango. But the best way to complete these five courses is with sakura dango. What makes this dessert so delicious is the red bean. I don’t typically like desserts with red bean in them because a lot of the time, the red bean will get in the way. I believe that the only purpose that red bean serves in desert is to provide a certain texture. With this dango, the bean plays its role quite well. You don’t test the bean are still reminded that you are eating sugar and mochi. The sakura is very delicate and, thanks to red bean not being overwhelming, you can really taste the sakura dango.
This list focuses mainly on Komachi dori, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying other foods throughout town. It would probably be cheaper too. Whatever beer you choose to pair Kamakura food with, do make sure you try the white bait fish in any form possible. And let me know if you found a good pairing with local Kamakura ingredients.