Tono is an area of rich history, culture, and legend in Japan's northeastern prefecture of Iwate. Visitors to the area can explore recreated villages, learn about the mythical mountain men and river sprites from the pages of The Legends of Tono (1910), and enjoy tucking into Tono's original food culture.
Visit a Tono lamb-and mutton-barbecue pioneer
Tono cuisine centers around jingiskan, a lamb or mutton barbecue. In Japan, the dish - supposedly named after Genghis Khan, the great Mongolian warlord - is more associated with Hokkaido, the country's northernmost main island. However, Tono is one of several areas in Japan to have a long history with the dish, and the first-ever jingiskan restaurant, Jingiskan no Anbe, is in central Tono.
The first owner of the store introduced jingiskan to the Tono area after returning from Manchuria at the end of the Pacific War (1941–1945) with a taste for lamb and mutton meat. There were two main factors behind the success of jingiskan in Tono: Unlike many other places in Japan, Tono was able to procure fresh lamb meat, as sheep were bred locally for wool.
The second reason was the popularity of the store's original sweet and tangy dipping sauce. Visitors to Tono shouldn't miss out on a trip to the restaurant for a taste of Tono history, tender meat, and unique flavoring.
The secrets behind Jingiskan no Anbe's success
Jingiskan Anbe is the home of Tono jingiskan and is in central Tono, around 10 minutes on foot from Tono Station. It's been serving customers for over 70 years and throughout that time has perfected the art of barbecuing lamb and mutton.
The store's third-generation owner is Yoshiya Anbe. Yoshiya's grandfather opened the restaurant and was the pioneer behind the popularization of jingiskan in Tono. Yoshiya, who grew up watching his own father at work in the restaurant, explains some of the reasons behind the shop's popularity, saying, "All the meat is high-grade Australian lamb and mutton, and we purchase it chilled, which locks in the freshness."
Another factor behind the meat's tenderness is that "the meat is only cut after customers have placed the order," says Yoshiya. He further notes that when cutting the flesh, his staff carefully check the direction of the fibers before making the cut - another technique that ensures tenderness.
The restaurant knows the right cuts of meat, has perfected its original tangy dipping sauce, and uses the ideal cooking implements, such as a domed iron plate that allows the fat to drip to the bottom. The restaurant offers an original jingiskan pizza, but this is only available to take out.
A guide to grilling your own meat
The menu is varied and offer different cuts. If you're new to jingiskan, however, go for the shoulder of lamb (kata-rosu) and mutton thigh (mutton momo). The two types of meat make for a good contrast - the lamb has a lighter taste and texture, while the mutton has a deeper and richer flavor. If you order the dish as teishoku, it comes with rice, vegetables, and a bowl of hearty soup packed with mushrooms, onions, and chunks of meat.
Staff fire up the special domed iron plate and give advice on how to grill the meat. First, rub the plate with pig fat - this allows for easier grilling. You'll notice that the dome-shaped plate serves a distinct purpose. As you grill the meat, the fat drips down the slopes of the plate and collects in the rim. If you stuff the onions and green peppers into the rim of the plate, the fat gives them a beautiful meaty kick. Fry the onions a little longer for that "burnt onion" taste.
After staff bring your plate of beautifully red meat, take a few slices and grill them on both sides until all the red coloring has turned into a rich brown. Before eating, dip liberally in the tare sauce which gives the meat extra spice and fruitiness, and packs a gingery punch. The shoulder meat is so tender it melts in the mouth. The cuts of mutton are a little chewier but have less fat and a richer flavor, which blends well with the tare.
Iwate is known for its rice, which can be eaten on its own, but try layering the strips of barbecued meat and grilled onions and peppers on top for a satisfying and filling dish. After feasting on prime lamb meat at Jingiskan no Anbe, you'll understand why the Tono people are so proud of their culinary heritage.
- Jingiskan no Anbe
- 2-4-12 Hayase-cho, Tono, Iwate
- Business hours:
- 9 a.m.–7 p.m
- Languages available:
- 0198-62-0601 (NPO Tono Natural Life Network)
- email@example.com (NPO Tono Natural Life Network)