I’m finally moving onto my other travels in Japan after the Eating in Tokyo series:
- Part 1 – Tsukiji Markets,
- Part 2 – Shibuya and Harajuku,
- Part 3 – More Markets and Depachikas,
- Part 4 – Shinjuku and Ginza,
- Part 5 – Narisawa, and
- Part 6 – Akihabara, Roppongi and Odaiba.
After the first few days in Tokyo, we stayed in the town of Nagano just to see the snow monkeys at the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Yamanouchi. We arrived at Nagano train station and tried to figure out how to get to our hotel. The great thing about train stations in Japan is that the food is damn good and usually cheap. I saw this small shop selling udon noodles and drinks right on our platform! I didn’t have a chance to try it but it’s great for business people on the go.
Depending on the size of the town and station, the food options are mind boggling with so much variety in the station as well as several small udon or ramen shops and other restaurants just outside the station. We found Sanuki Udon Hanamaru, a Japanese fast food chain. The menu included several different bowls of udon, cooked fresh and on the spot.
There were so many side dishes that you could pick from too, mostly deep fried goodies. You basically just grab a tray, a side plate for any side dishes, place your udon order, wait until its ready (less than a minute), then pay at the register. There was free tea and condiments to put in your udon bowl too.
The curry udon noodle (I think ¥550) was exactly what I wanted as I had never had it in Australia before. Bowls came in small, medium or large, and I chose the medium size which was perfect for me. This was delicious – not overly strong like an Indian curry, instead it was very light with subtle spices which tasted so good with the thick udon noodles. I had a side of a crumbed and fried potato thing (I think an extra ¥140). It was kind of like a hash brown but with a better crust. A very hearty and cheap noodle dish. I ended up coming here twice just to order the curry udon!
My sister chose a small pork udon (I think ¥450) with the addition of a soft boiled egg, and tempura vegetables as a side. She regretted getting the small but really enjoyed the dish.
When we went back a second time, she ordered the same thing but the large version (about ¥650) with the potato hash brown and I think fried chicken on the side. The large would have been too large for me, and I was very happy with the medium size.
Worth checking out for a cheap, tasty and filling meal. Oh, and just a couple of shots of the snow monkeys below. We didn’t eat there as there was no food around and it was a morning trip out of Nagano.
The snow had completely melted away as it was spring, but they still looked pretty cute bathing in the water.
Another eatery outside the Nagano JR train station was ramen house Misoya. I had read another blog that stated it was a good cheap eat and my sister and I were both happy to try it out. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the difficulties we found was that a lot of shop fronts do not have English signs so we couldn’t see a sign for ‘Misoya’, and we both can’t read Japanese. Thankfully, googlemaps has photos and we were able to find a photo of the shopfront. Here it is below in case you were thinking of trying it out.
The inside is cosy with stools and a counter top surrounding the open kitchen. We were thankful for the hooks and hangers along the walls to hang up our jackets and bags.
As you can probably tell from the name, miso soup ramen was the specialty. Lucky for us, there was an English menu. They serve regular ramen as well as locally made ramen (made in Nagano) by grinding wheat on a millstone. The only broth options were miso soup or spicy miso soup using pork and chicken bones. I ordered the miso chasyumen (¥950) which came with deliciously fatty slices of pork, a whole soft boiled egg topped with spring onion, carrot, bean sprouts and sesame seeds. The mixture of pork and chicken bones as the broth base meant it wasn’t too heavy and rich like a tonkotsu, with a slightly nutty flavour from the miso. Very easy to slurp down.
I chose the locally made ramen which were thick and chewy. The overall taste was different to other ramen shops with the addition of crunchy bean sprouts. However, the bowl was very enjoyable, cheap and cheerful.
My sister ordered the Miso Tsukemen, (¥990) which was basically what I ordered except in a dipping ramen style. It also looked like she got a lot more ramen and more soup than me, hence the slight increase in price.
We did a bit of exploring around the Nagano and found the most famous thing to see was Zenkoji Temple. Leading up to the temple were various shop fronts selling souvenirs and snacks. On the hunt to try as many Japanese ice cream flavours as I could, I spotted the amazake flavoured ice cream at one of the stalls. Amazake is a fermented drink made out of rice. I can’t describe the flavour but it was extremely subtle and sweet.
My sister wanted to try freshly made hot onigiri (a rice ball) however she found it too plain with not much seasoning and just pure rice.
We reached the temple in the late afternoon just before most of the shops closed, so it was mostly free of tourists with just a few locals paying their respects.
Matsumoto (Nagano prefecture)
With Nagano as our base, we did a day trip out to Matsumoto Castle. After a morning of sight seeing and walking around the castle, we were both hungry for lunch.
I’d eaten so much ramen and udon on the holiday so far, that it was time to try some soba. After a bit of research, we decided to try Sobakiri Miyota. Fortunately, they had English menus! I saw basashi, horse meat sashimi, (¥1,080) on the ‘local foods’ menu and knew I had to try it. My sister and I shared the dish. It was a lot tougher than expected with a slightly different taste to beef.
One of the specialty foods in the Nagano prefecture are oyaki. These are Japanese dumplings (kind of like the Chinese steamed buns) stuffed with an assortment of fillings such as vegetables, fruit or beans. I picked the nozawana oyaki (¥220 each), nozawana being a Japanese green leaf vegetable that kind of looks like choi sum.
An inside shot of the oyaki below. It was completely filled with nozawana and I think I would have preferred it mixed with something else. But I’m glad I got to try this local food.
My sister picked the atuyaki tamago (¥330) which are Japanese egg rolls cooked in a soba soup stock. Tasty.
For mains, I ordered the kamonanban soba consisting of soba noodles in duck soup with boiled duck breast and leeks (¥1,150). The broth was light (and very different to all the ramen broth I’d been having up to this point!) but quite salty. The duck was also slightly overcooked but that could be due to my personal preference. The thin soba noodles were nice but I much prefer the thicker udon and ramen.
My sister ordered the ebiten soba (¥1,500) filled with soba noodles with three pieces of shrimp tempura. She enjoyed her bowl but soon regretted ordering tempura as it softened very quickly in the broth.
After lunch, we hit the streets to do some exploring. We first headed to the few stalls on Nawate Shopping Street, a thin small street selling food and souvenirs. Some stalls were closed as it wasn’t a weekend and there were less people there than usual. I must admit that there wasn’t an impressive array of items.
I did see a popular shop selling hot taiyaki and decided to try the taiyaki ice cream (¥250). This was basically two thin wafers in the shape of a taiyaki sandwiching vanilla ice cream and red bean.
We saw several water fountains where you could have a quick drink or wash your hands.
We found baumkuchen, a traditional German cake made and cooked on a spit, that is sold all over Japan. It’s made by brushing even layers of batter after the previous layer has dried, so that when you cut it open there are ‘tree rings’ in the cake. We were never hungry enough to try it or there was always something else to try, but I did eventually buy some from the Haneda airport duty free shop on my way back to Australia! Great with a cup of tea.
After more strolling around the town, we heard someone wailing something in Japanese. At first I thought there was some accident or fight. But no one else seemed to be panicking. We then saw a small truck slowly drive along with billows of smoke coming out from the back. Fortunately for us, he parked just a few metres away from where we were standing. The driver got out and kept wailing the same thing. Then the smell of something baking hit us. Very curious, we both slowly walked over to the truck. We must have looked like tourists, as the driver lifted a lid and showed us the sweet potato baking inside over hot stones.
Turns out, he was yelling out ‘yaki-imo’ which means sweet potato in Japanese. He was one of the several yaki-imo men selling baked sweet potatoes in Japan. Of course we got one to share (¥400).
My sister mentioned purple sweet potatoes are usually sold too but ours was yellow. Half a sweet potato each was more than enough. Hot and fresh 🙂
That’s all from our brief visit to Nagano. Next up… Tsumago!
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