This month I explored local delicacies along the Shimanami Kaido, a dedicated cycling path connecting Hiroshima with Ehime. Eating my way across the eight bridges and six islands at a rather leisurely pace, I finished the 70-kilometer trip in two days, but it can be cycled in five hours if you are short on time. Just stick a bag of the local lemon senbei (rice crackers) into your pack and you’re good to go.
I recommend starting on the Ehime side and heading north. You can rent your metal steed on either side, however, and return it on the other shore. Once you’ve mounted your velocipede, just follow the blue line marked on the road.
The first four kilometers of suspension bridges over the Kurushima Strait offer exhilarating views of the Seto Inland Sea — quintessential Shimanami Kaido. The blue line will guide you down onto the first island, Oshima. At the bottom of the bridges is a rest area, good for a short break, but to experience the local culture and cuisine you’ll need to get off the blue line. Follow me!
The cafe culture that has sprung up along this string of Seto Inland Sea islands fuses local Japanese food with Western cooking methods and the “slow life” mentality.
Just off the bicycle path onto Route 337 along the east coast of Oshima is the Shokudo Mitsubashi (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). If you got a late-morning start from Imabari, swing by for their set lunch featuring the fresh catch of the day. Back on your bike, the cycle path only skirts a couple kilometers of Hakatajima, but by the time you cross the Omishima arched bridge you’ll be wanting a break.
Take a detour from the blue line down Route 51 to the Omishima Coffee Roastery, (Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Fridays 11 a.m.-5 p.m.). From there, you can either take a couple hours to cycle around the entire island of Omishima, or jump back onto the blue line and hit the Kuroshio restaurant, which is popular with Japanese customers. It’s three kilometers past the Tatara Bridge, located at the end of a lane-way next to the sea. You’ll likely see a few bicycles parked outside. They have an English menu featuring shareable high-end dishes such as fried oysters, but be sure you know your fish, because the staff can be a little impatient.
After lunch, before crossing the cable-stayed Tatara Bridge to Ikuchishima, pick up a shimagokoro (“island heart”) lemon cake at the rest area under the bridge and check out the great view of the structure from below.
Another choice for lunch, or a late snack, is farther ahead on Ikuchishima, the lemon capital of Japan on the next island over, said to be the halfway point on the Shimanami Kaido. As you cycle past Sunset Beach on your left you’ll see an arched yellow bridge off to the left just before entering the town of Setoda.
Follow the yellow bridge road onto the small island of Kone (population 300) through the neighborhood citrus farms to Kone Paradiso Cafe (closed Mondays). It’s not much to look at on the outside, but inside this hideaway is a cozy Japanese house with tables, chairs and the proprietor’s own artwork. The mood is enhanced by breezy, jazzy music DJed by her chef husband, who serves up local wild boar and venison.
Start with a lemon cocktail garnished with the neighborhood citrus. After sampling the wild boar lemon curry with pickled green papaya, choose one of the hand-crafted desserts such as the pumpkin spice cheesecake enhanced with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.
After this Edenic binge, head back into Setoda. Look for the Shiomachi Shotengai (shopping street) just off the blue line, where an old lady sells croquettes from a hole-in-the-wall noshery popular among Japanese cyclists. Get off your bike and obambulate down this quaint Edo Period (1603-1868) street, ducking in for a coffee or hot homemade ginger ale at Cafe and Bar Shiomachitei, which offers decor covering the trifecta of bicycles, music and art.
Through Setoda village and past the Ikuchishima Tourist Information Office (photo op with the Big Lemon and Big Orange), a few more kilometers down the road is the popular Dolce ice cream parlor, the place to go for citrus-infused gelato. If, however, you find you’ve had enough riding for the day (four to five hours is a long time to be on a bicycle!), you can either stay overnight in Setoda (and search for hamako nabe for dinner, a local dish of vegetables and seafood in a miso-base soup, served in a clay pot) or return your rent-a-cycle to the Setoda Tourist Information Office and catch a ferry from Setoda Port to Onomichi on the mainland.
The last two islands — Innoshima and Mukaishima — are mostly industrial and don’t offer much for the tourist, although hard-core cyclists will power through. Should you decide to pedal your deadly treadly over the suspension bridge to Innoshima, grab a hassaku citrus fruit native to the island (seasonal) or the hassaku confitures (available year-round).
Onomichi is known for its anago (eel), and the kabayaki (grilled eel in a sweet soy-based sauce) is delish. Try any of the seasonal Inland Sea specialties such as red snapper, suzuki (sea bass), squid or debera (five-spot flounder). If fish isn’t your thing, go for Onomichi ramen! Wrap up your evening with a cool local Hiroshima craft beer at the U2 Hotel, located by the cycle terminal.