Many of our guests who are visiting Japan for the first time will ask for the local sushi restaurant, problem is, Japanese people save their incessant taste for the raw delicacy for their trip to the sea. Fish is freshest and therefore tastiest, by the ocean. If you really are really craving for Japan’s most famous cuisine, we highly recommend taking a trip to the coast. Itoigawa has tons of fish restaurants and is only about an hour away by train. While you are in Hakuba, you can get your sushi fix at Kikyoya but you should really try some other varieties of Japanese food as well.
The Goryu Village now has a new specialty restaurant serving kushi-age (aka kushikatsu). Age (pronounced “ah-geh”) means fried and Kushi refers to the bamboo skewers that are used. You can even see the bite sized morsels skewered on sticks in the Kanji (Chinese characters) for Kushi-age 串 揚げ!
The Chef doesn’t speak English but there is an English menu that includes a thorough description of how to enjoy his fresh from the fryer bite sized morsels. You can choose exactly which and just how many skewers you want or let him choose from his seasonal selection. The night we were there there were 30 different skewers on the menu. I’m a pescetarian and he had no problem choosing from his selection of seafood and veggies. My dinner partners had a few morsels of meat but if you tell him you are vegetarian (it will help to say “yasai dakeh” meaning “only vegetables” and “kudasai” (please).
He will serve 1 or 2 skewers at a time and place them in front of the recommended dips. All you need to do is dip and eat. Kushiage went very well with draft beer he served in frozen glasses but he has a very nice selection of sakes, shochus and soft drinks as well.
Finally, finish of in the traditional way with a bowl of rice. At Skikisai they have 3 different kinds of ochazuke (bowl of rice soup) to choose from. Yummmm!
So the other night I was at Tracks Bar with my Sorels tossed aside hoping to dance up another snow storm when a hunger pang forced me back to the bar to order a bite to eat. I had yet try their almost-famous fish and chips from their connected take-out shop, Shark & Taties so without hesitation but with a drunken slur, I ordered the small NZ style fish & chips for only ¥700. And I must admit, I have never been to New Zealand or England, and I am therefore no connoisseur, but they were by far the best fish & chips I have ever tasted! I could not stop thinking about those crispy beer battered gifts from the sea and so 2 days later I was back with an extra growling gut. My partner and I ordered 1 batch of chips, 4 pieces of fish, and 2 pineapple fritters. We managed to get some pics before it was all devoured but then couldn’t resist ordering more! More fried goodness, tender fish, and juicy pineapple.
I highly recommend trying some Shark & Taties and even though it’s meant to be a take-out shop, I suggest you just order a plate and eat at Tracks Bar instead. They have an amazing selection of beers for less than you’d expect to pay. Go on the weekends and you will be treated to best live music in the Hakuba Valley…. no make that Nagano Prefecture, or even Japan!
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Google “best sushi in Hakuba” and you will undoubtedly be sent numerous links to reviews for Kikyo-ya. Don’t trust the inter-webs? Then maybe you should have a look at the writing on the wall. Here are just a few of the enthusiastic messages written by Kikyo-ya’s devoted customers:
Kikyo-ya is on the 148 not far from Hakuba Station, directly across from the Boarding Co. Look for the Japanese cherry-blossom emblems outside. I suggest you sit at the counter for the ultimate sushi experience, and watch the master chef at work as he slices the most delicate fish to create Japan’s most celebrated cuisine. The charismatic owner will also help you choose another sake, while their extensive seafood menu (also in English) will make you want to come back for more.
Tel.: 0261 72 3633
NOTE: This is a blog entry written by Lodge tabi-tabi. Please don’t use our contact information to contact Kikyo-ya. Kikyo-ya’s number is 0261-72-3633
There is a new burger shack in town and what a pretty shack it is! This is actually Little Alaskan’s second location. Their first cozy cabin is still up and running on Olympic Road near Happo One Ski Resort while this colourful second shop is conveniently located right across Escal Plaza at Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort.
Both locations serve excellent chargrilled gourmet burgers. They have a choice of beef or chicken paddies and offer a huge assortment of toppings including the less obvious avocado and pineappple. The Olympic Road location also serves a fish burger which I am hoping they will add to the menu in Goryu.
A gourmet burger of your choice is around ¥1000. French fries or homecut fries are an extra ¥300 to which you can add toppings like cheese dip for another ¥100.
To wash it all down they serve beer on tap, soda, and juice.
Open: 12:00 – 20:00
If you are craving some western food while on the mountain, you might want to try Pizza House Luis. They are conveniently located just below the gondola station at Hakuba 47. Luis Pizza House offers 4 different sauces to choose from; garlic sauce, basil sauce, codroe and mayonaise sauce, and your standard tomato sauce. These thin crusted Italian style pizza pies only come in one single serving size and cost ¥1200 – ¥1500 each. They also offer quick snacks like hashbrowns, fried chicken, curry buns, and saugages for ¥200 – ¥500. And serve draft beer and Italian wine to help you wash it all down and work up a bit more courage for your afternoon on the mountain.
There are soba shops all over the Hakuba Valley but my favorite sansai soba is from Yamato Soba. Sansai means mountain vegetable, these wild and nutritious plants are loaded onto a plate of cold soba noodles along with some grated daikon, green onions, shredded nori (seaweed) and wasabi. You have to pour over the soba tsuyu (sauce) yourself. It comes in a ceramic flask, make sure you mix up your plate well then dig in and slurp away. Yes, it’s OK to slurp your noodles in Japan. In fact, the locals feel that you will be missing out on some flavor if you don’t.
If you get zaru soba (plain noodles in middle pic below) you will get a small cup of soba tsuyu where you can add your desired amount of wasabi and daikon. Then you load up on noodles with your chopsticks and dip it into the cup, slurp, chomp, and swallow.
Yamato Soba has cold and hot versions of all of their dishes. You can also order udon (a thick white noodle) instead of soba (brown buckwheat noodles).
There are always a few specials to choose from like the seasonal tempura and okowa (sticky rice mixed with beans, see pic below). Today they also had kurumi soba which is a walnut dip instead of the usual soy-sauce based dip. Oishikatta (It was yum)!
Hours: 11:00 to 16:00 (and sometimes 17:00 or 18:00)
At 3 pm tabi-tabi staff and guests piled into the van ready to experience a little culture. First stop was Oyaki Mura in Ogawa. Oyaki is a veggie filled bun popular in Nagano prefecture, and mura means village. According to the oyaki maker (man in blue), in the old days people who lived in the mountains made these everyday. Due to a shortage of flat land, rice paddies were limited, therefore rice in short supply. The mountain people of Nagano grew wheat for flour, that could be made into dough and shaped and stuffed into oyaki. On this day we got to do the shaping and stuffing ourselves. We all made 2 varieties of oyaki. First, the standard nozawana which is a green leafy vegetable that tastes a little like spinach but is actually from the turnip family. Then, the unohana variety, which is a dry roasted tofu pulp mixed with veggies. We shaped and stuffed, and the the obasan (auntie) helped us close up our little pockets of veggies before the ojisan (uncle) cooked them up for us on the irori (open fire). After we had our fill of handmade (and very tasty!) oyaki, we climbed back into the van and headed off to Nagano city for the Tomyo Festival….. (see part two for the rest of our little adventure).
Da Monde is commonly known as “Darts Bar” and rightfully so. They have 2 electronically operated dart boards that will keep track of your score so you can focus on your toss. They also have karaoke, and a good selection of manga for those who prefer to put their feet up and do a little reading (in Japanese). Da Monde is about a 10 minute walk from Lodge tabi-tabi, you can also find it on our Goryu Walking Map here.
Lantern Rirun is an old lodge with a great new bar and after-hours club serving strong drinks, danceable tunage, and a super-chill local vibe. The night I was there DJ Haiyato was churning out some sweet trance and techno, along with some housy beats. He was well in tune with the crowd and kept all of us wacky people on our dancing feet. Looking forward to getting loco with the locals again soon!Â
Nagano prefecture is known for Shinsyu Soba. Shinshyu is the old name for what is now known as Nagano Prefecture and soba is a buckwheat noodle soup made with a simple soy based broth. You can find Soba restaurants all over Hakuba and the rest of the prefecture. Tonegawa Soba has got to be the best soba restaurant in the Hakuba village. As you can see it is set in beautiful old Minka (Japanese farm house) complete with irori (a sunken hearth used for cooking and eating), kotatsu (heated tables), and hand-made hanten (a quilted robe for guests to wear).
Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday John will be serving up yummy Tex-Mex to satisfy even the hungriest of Texans. UPDATE: John has been too busy and we are very sad. 🙁 We hear a few others are willing to try on his Texan boots and serve up his Tex-Mex dishes. Not exactly sure what will be on the menu so please just go and check it out!
I highly recommend you start with the Smokey Quesadilla, a large flour tortilla sandwich of melted cheese, sauteed onion, and smoked chipotle chillies served with a side of fresh guacamole, salsa fresca, sour cream, and a bit of cabbage. The quesadilla could be shared as a starter or eaten whole as a vegetarian meal (¥850).
Pescetarians, and lovers of seafood, should try the Baja Style Tacos (see picture above), where 2 soft tacos are stuffed with beer-battered fried fish, guacamole, cheese, cabbage, salsa fresca, and sour cream.
For meat lovers he’s got “nice tender chicken” served in the chicken enchiladas and El Grande chicken burritos. All of Arriba Arriba’s Main Plates (¥1000) are served with a side of Spanish rice, re-fried beans, and chopped cabbage.
Their tostada salad served in a deep-fried tortilla bowl sounded delicious but I wanted to leave a bit of space for a Mexican style hot chocolate. Their spiced hot cocoa is not on the menu but may be available on quieter nights. Just ask!
Complete your Mexican meal with a Corona or tequila shot for only ¥400!
Check out Sauce on any night of the week for beers, cocktails, and light snacks. Love their plate of crispy fries alongside a rum and coke. They have events, local DJs, photo exhibits, opening parties. Last year I spotted Jeremy Jones playing fuse-ball with the locals during a release party for the magazine, Hand. I hear no-one can beat the owner, YJ, at his own game though. They also have darts, cozy couches, and a large bar with friendly staff. Sauce is about a 10 minute walk from Lodge tabi-tabi. You can also find it on our recommendation map here.
An izakaya is a Japanese style dining bar that serves many small dishes to be shared with everyone at the table. At an izakaya you eat and drink, eat and drink, and then drink some more. This izakaya however, doesn’t serve the usual Japanese izakaya food. Instead, they have come up with unique pizzas in Japanese flavours like sansai (wild mountain vegetables) and pizza crusts covered in toasted sesame seeds served with wasabi tartar sauce. They even have a fried banana pizza for dessert. There is more than pizza at pizzakaya though, they have salads, green curry, risotto, yummy hors d’oeuvres like stuffed shiitake mushrooms, and snacks like shrimp crackers, and a variety of cheeses.
The shop is warm and cozy, owners are very friendly, and everything is served on beautiful original pottery. It’s popular with locals and tourist alike so get there early or drop in late.
Open: 18:00 – 24:00 (last order 23:00)
Canada Tei is a Japanese izakaya with tasty local dishes, great service, and a comprehensive English menu. Shige (shee-geh) the friendly owner speaks English and is happy to make recommendations like sukiyaki, nabe, or “salted squid guts”. You’ve got to try their okonomiyaki, and make sure you ask about their daily specials, last time I was there they had excellent tuna and salmon sashimi. They carry a good selection of Japanese nihonshu (sake) and shochu, and of course have beer on tap. Canada Tei is a 5 minute walk from, or a 10 minute stumble back to, Lodge tabi-tabi. You can also find it on our recommendation map here.
For cheap eats (burgers, burritos, pizza, nachos for 600 yen), veggie options (pizza, burgers, burritos all have a veggie version), free pool table, beer on tap, strong cocktails, super friendly folks, and some of the best live music I have ever seen, Tracks Bar continues to bring the usual suspects and local crowds too. There is no reason not to have a few at Tracks. Tracks Bar is only a 5 minute walk from Lodge tabi-tabi, you can also find it on our recommendation map here.
O-shogatsu means New Years in Japan, and although this is one of Japan’s biggest annual celebrations, there isn’t a whole lot of Champagne popping going on. Last night 10 tabi-tabi-ians said goodbye to the new year by eating some toshikoshi soba at The Tonegawa Soba Shop. Toshikoshi means end of the old year and start of the new year. Soba is a bowl of buckwheat noodles served in a hot soy based soup. The long noodles symbolize a long and hopefully healthy life.
After our steamy bowl of noodles, we walked through the old Iimori village to Chogokuji Temple for Hatsumode (New Year’s temple visit). Inside we listened to the Buddhist priest chant and pray for the new year that lay ahead, we then went to a large tatami room where we shared amazake (a sweet non-refined sake) and ate mochi, rice crakers, and tsukemono (pickled veggies).
Once we had our fill, we went outside again to ring the temple bell. Everyone got to have a go at swinging the large pendulum. According to tradition, the bell must be rung 108 times. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana. I’m sure, 2012 is going to be a good year!
Akemashite Omedeto! (Happy New year!)
tabi-tabi guests Ray and G from Operation Backpack Asia, Yasu and myself drove around the backstreets looking for the best (worst?) rental shops with the meanest gear and got ourselves hooked up with 7 matching 80s appeal one pieces. Sarah and Andy of Snow Season Japan did all the work behind the scenes and organized yet another super fluoro night at Tracks Bar here in Goryu.
Here are just a couple of us getting ready to head out:
Andy and Alastair representing tabi-tabi won a huge bottle of local sake in the Fluruo Fancy Dance off: