The cuisine of the Sakhalin Region has long become a brand. Due to historical circumstances, a century old, it was formed on the junction of several cultures, by the neighboring Russian, Japanese and Korean diasporas.
The peculiarity of Sakhalin cuisine is first and foremost a kind of mix of Russian and Korean gastronomy. Korean food was brought here at the beginning of the last century by settlers who arrived to Sakhalin during the Japanese mobilization.
Recipes of dishes have been gently handed from generation to generation. Now they say that Sakhalin Korean cuisine is the one, the real cuisine of poor peasants, that has preserved its authenticity due to a kind of reservation on the island. These dishes were on tables in Korean houses at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. They are simple to cook because all the ingredients, so to speak, are under one's feet and in the sea which is just a stone's throw away: fern, wild garlic, carrots, burdock, sea cabbage and sea grapes, unpretentious cabbage kimchi and pepper, squids, crabs and scallops. In Sakhalin, there is a legend that the recipe of the famous pyan se pie was invented in Kholmsk, an hour and a half drive from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, by a Korean migrant woman back in Soviet times. Today, this white, delicate, steamed bun with a spicy filling of cabbage and meat is a trademark of the Sakhalin gastronomy. Dishes of Korean cuisine can be found in almost every Sakhalin café and restaurant. Khe, pyan se, kimchi (chamcha), hemultan, dyap che and many other dishes are in the catering menu and in the kitchens of Sakhalin housewives everyday (for example, the traditional Russian garnish of fried potatoes is often combined with spicy cabbage kimchi or khe). In addition, ready made salads and pickles are sold in shops and markets, cooked both industrially and in the kitchens of Korean grandmothers.
In Sakhalin, they love and know how to cook Korean national dishes, so that whatever restaurant a traveler enters, they won't be disappointed. But you just need to be ready for a hearty lunch and dinner: because in Sakhalin restaurants, in addition to the main ordered course they always serve traditional Korean snacks, most often it's spicy turnips, dyap che noodles, kimchi, Korean carrot salad. And they bring you the snacks during the whole dinner and absolutely free of charge: such is Korean hospitality.
The geographical position of Sakhalin Region, the proximity of the Asian-Pacific countries, the diversity of aquatic biological resources make the island a gastronomic mecca for fans of sushi, sashimi, spicy, rolls and hundreds of other dishes that are discovered (not invented) in the Land of the Rising Sun and successfully embodied here. In fact, many of these delicacies are simply unknown to inhabitants of Russian cities. Moreover, the very notion of Japanese cuisine is often distorted, because it's hard to imagine that they would use mayonnaise for rolls, and salted fish for sushi in Japan.
It's not for nothing that guests of Sakhalin, having visited restaurants and cafés of Japanese cuisine, don't visit similar places somewhere on the mainland for a long time. Let alone the Sakhalin people, they all crinkle their noses at the mere mention of Japanese cuisine in both Russian capitals.
And it's not surprising. The fresh ingredients, the cooking technology, the art of serving and the skills of local cooks, many of whom learned from masters of the neighboring country, make Japanese cuisine on Sakhalin not just authentic, but genuine — truly Japanese. Small portions of sushi, rolls and sashimi turn every Japanese lunch into a tasting. You can order several different types of dishes to appreciate the diversity of flavours created by nature itself.
Dishes of Japanese cuisine can be found on the menu of almost every restaurant on Sakhalin, and they will all be of the highest quality. However, the Sakhalin people prefer the ones that were opened by people from the Land of the Rising Sun. There are five of them in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and each has long earned its regular customers. The reputation of these restaurants has been tested over the years: they embody the spirit of Japan, its taste and its philosophy. This is where people bring their dear guests, celebrate important events and just simply drop in for lunch. It's these restaurants that are difficult to get to on Friday and Saturday night without booking a table in advance. The thrill of Sakhalin people to the traditions of Japanese gastronomy can be characterized by the fact that the owner of one of the best restaurants, Yutaka Miyanisi, has become an honorable resident of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. And townspeople always bring flowers to his restaurant on his birthday as gratitude for the careful integration of Japanese culture into the life of the Sakhalin people.
Speaking of gastronomic tourism, it would be a sin not to mention the Sakhalin red roe. Yes, they really eat it with spoons here! During the season of chum and pink salmon, every self-respecting Sakhalin resident can cook a so-called five-minute roe by simply cleaning the entrails from the fish, preparing it for fish broth or frying. In the Sakhalin fish markets, you won't find roe that would be crumpled or sluggish. This caviar is famous for the fact that each amber bead explodes with a small fountain on your tongue. Here, you can learn how to distinguish pink salmon roe from chum salmon roe by its appearance, size of the eggs and their color. The price of the delicacy depends on the fishing season: the more fish goes to spawn in rivers, the cheaper it is. However, one must be prepared for the fact that roe is an expensive treat anyway. But the quality is worth it.
Another pride of Sakhalin is smelt. Dogsteeth or pencil smelt, they attract fishermen to ice fishing in the winter. Neither spring unreliable fast ice, nor the need to get up before dawn can stop its fans from fishing. Lakes Maloye and Bolshoye Busse, Izmenchivoye, Tunaycha, Mordvinov Bay and the River Nayba are strewn with fishermen, both adults and children, from December to March. When fresh, this fish smells like cucumbers. The most delicious is the one freshly caught and fried right on the ice. Dried one is an irreplaceable snack for beer.
Autumn is the time for crabbing season on Sakhalin. At this time huge claws hang from the shelves of large and small fish markets located next to the fishing villages of Vzmorie and Okhotskoe. Juicy, fleshy, with pink meat, Sakhalin crabs are nice as a separate dish and as components of salads and soups. When frozen, they perfectly tolerate hours of flying to please those who are not so lucky to live near the Sea of Okhotsk.
In late July and August, it's easy to see an unusual for other regions picture on Sakhalin beaches: slowly walking in the sea, men and women are trampling something, groping their feet on the seabed. These are lovers of fresh sea delicacies looking for sea scallops, the surf clams. They cook them right there, on the shore, throwing them into the fire, causing the shells to open and expose the tender white meat. If you're lucky, you can find a sea urchin on the shore, this is one of the most valuable products, in Japan they sell it for a lot of money. Local residents argue that the most delicious roe of sea urchin is the one from a newly caught one. When you slash its thin abdomen with a knife and pour soy sauce right into the viscera. But as they say, it's not the same with everybody.
The variety of sea delicacies is a feature of Sakhalin. There is an abundance on the shelves of local fish markets: whelk, scallop, shrimp, halibut, crab, octopus, squid, trepang, red fish in all forms, fresh, smoked and dried. Sakhalin sellers have long been able to pack all this wealth into light boxes that are handy for transportation to all corners of the world.
Come and see for yourself: Sakhalin is not only beautiful, it's also delicious.