A Taste For… Miso | Japanese-Style Miso Cod

Are you familiar with umami? Discovered (and named) by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda back in 1908 and known as the fifth taste group (alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty), umami is most commonly translated as ‘savoury’ or ‘meaty’ and is a flavour profile that most of us enjoy in our food, whether or not we could name or identify it. Although it occurs naturally in many foods – including mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, chinese cabbage, asparagus, sweetcorn and shellfish – many cultures have become adept at creating umami-rich foods by cooking, curing and fermenting; these include cheese, green tea, fish sauce and yeast extract.

Miso is one such umami-bomb – an ingredient at the core of Japanese cuisine.

Miso Cod on Kavey Eats (overlay)

Made by fermenting soybeans, salt and additional grains such as rice or barley with a mould fungus known in Japanese as kōji-kin, the result is a thick, salty and intensely savoury paste used as a seasoning throughout Japanese cooking.

There are many different varieties available in Japan, often broadly divided by their colour. The most common misos are red and white, made with soybeans and rice. White has a higher percentage of rice than its red counterpart and is the mildest and sweetest. Red, aged for longer, is stronger and saltier and darkens with age through red into brown. Some vintage misos are almost black in colour.

There are other types that are made with different grains such as barley, buckwheat, rye or millet.

Regional differences also play a part; in Sendai the locals prefer their miso slightly chunkier, so the soybeans are coarsely mashed rather than ground; in parts of Chubu and Kansai there’s a preference for darker, saltier and more astringent miso. In Eastern Japan, mild and sweet pale misos are the favourites.

Fermentation of foods has been prevalent in East Asia since ancient times. Grains and fish were fermented in the Neolithic era and there are records describing the use of Aspergillus moulds in China as far back as 300. BC Fermented soybean products may have been introduced to Japan from China at the same time as Buddhism in the 6th Century CE.

Until the late 19th century, Japan’s population ate mainly fish and vegetables. Since miso is high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, it became an important nutritional element of the Japanese diet, especially for Buddhists following a strictly vegetarian regimen.

In Japan, miso is obviously a key ingredient in miso soup (for which it is combined with dashi stock) but it also features in sauces, marinades, pickles and dressings (such as the tofu, sesame and miso dressing for green bean salad that we shared in our last issue). It is even used in sweet dishes; miso mochi – chewy dumplings made from rice flour – offer a delightful balance of sweet, salty and savoury.

Miso also lends itself to fusion cooking, offering a great way to add saltiness and savouriness to your dishes. Combine with honey, mustard and oil for a salad dressing; whip into butter and spread on fresh bread or melt over steamed vegetables; thin with water and brush onto meat before grilling or barbequing; stir half a teaspoon into porridge instead of salt; or add to a bean casserole for extra flavour. Whenever you need a kick of umami, miso is the perfect ingredient.

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Miso | image via shutterstock.com

Japanese-Style Miso Cod

This simple marinade works beautifully with cod but can also be used with other fish such as salmon. It’s also delicious on aubergine or firm tofu.

Serves 2

Ingredients
2 tbsp white miso paste
2 tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
2 tbsp sugar
2 fillets of sustainable fresh cod, skin on

Note: White miso has a slightly sweeter and milder flavour than the red version, which suits this recipe well. However, you can use red miso paste instead; use a touch less in that case.

Method

  • Preheat your grill to a medium-hot setting.
  • Heat the mirin, white miso paste and sugar in a small saucepan, over a gentle heat, until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Place the fish fillets skin side down on a piece of foil.
  • Spread the paste generously over the surface of the fish, top side only.
  • Grill until the fish is cooked through and the paste is bubbling and starting to char. Depending on the thickness of your fillets, this will take 5-8 minutes.
  • Serve with rice and green vegetables.

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Where to buy miso

Search the major supermarkets. Most now offer miso pastes in their speciality ingredients ranges (though these may not be available in every branch). Do check the ingredients – some products are actually ready made marinades or soup blends (with additional ingredients added to the miso). For use in recipes, you need a plain miso.

If you have an oriental supermarket within reach, you’ll usually find a decent selection at lower prices. Online stores also offer a wide choice.

Try clearspring.co.uk (organic), japancentre.com, souschef.co.uk, waiyeehong.co.uk and wingyip.com.

 

This piece was written in 2014 and first published in Good Things magazine. ©Kavita Favelle.

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Visiting The Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum

Have you heard of kamaboko? It’s a type of surimi fishcake from Japan. Surimi is made by creating a paste of pureed white fish paste that is flavoured, formed into different shapes and steamed to cook. In Japan there are many surimi products which are sold both fresh and dried for consumers to add to their soups, hotpots and other dishes. You may already be familiar with one surimi product that is consumed around the world – imitation crabsticks, made from coloured and flavoured fish paste.

Kamaboko is a large loaf-shaped surimi fishcake that is cooked whole, most commonly by steaming, but it can also be fried, grilled or poached. It us usually served sliced, either on its own or within other dishes.

Suzihiro, a traditional manufacturer of kamaboko, have created a centre where visitors can learn more about the history and manufacture of kamaboko. Originally a retailer of fresh fish and seafood, Suzihiro began making kamaboko in 1865, expanding their local customer base to Tokyo during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many Tokyo customers would purchase Suzihiro kamaboko on their journeys to Hakone’s onsen (hot spring bath) resorts.

Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-105223 Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-105551

The Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum is located in the Kazamatsuri district of Odawara City, in Kanagawa Prefecture. Visitors heading to Hakone from Tokyo can easily make a stop at the museum, which is right next to Kazamatsuri Station, on the Hakone Tozan Line between Odawara and Hakone-Yumoto.

Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-103836 Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-103223

As you exit the station, the path from the exit will lead you straight to a large modern building which houses the Suzunari Market, an indoor food market selling a wide range of food including plenty of fishcake products as well as other local delicacies. There are a few eateries within the space, plus plenty of takeaway food to enjoy fresh. There are also products to take home, some of which are designed as omiyage – the customary gifts that Japanese travellers bring home for friends and colleagues.

Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-103957 Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-104537
Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-104358 Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-104203

A coffee shop overlooks the station, with a small garden area between. To one side is a store showcasing and selling ornate Suzihiro kamaboko products. If you exit the market building onto the main road and turn right, the next building along houses the Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum.

Kamoboko Museum and Market in Kazamatsuri Japan. On Kavey Eats-103051

Admission is free. There are also paid activities to try your hand at making simple surimi products. These run at set times; contact the museum to reserve in advance if you want to participate.

There is very little information in English so having a good translation app on your phone will make it easier to understand the exhibits detailing the history and manufacturing process.

Best of all though is the opportunity to watch, through enormous glass windows, skilled workmen and women crafting kamoboko in the large factory kitchen.

 

Thanks to Robb at WhereInTokyo for his tip to visit the museum. You can see more photos of the museum exhibits on his site.

You may also enjoy my previous posts about my travels to Japan.

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Miyama Futon & Breakfast | A Glimpse of Rural Japan

On our latest trip to Japan, I was determined to get a glimpse of rural Japan.

We had very much enjoyed our previous insights into traditional Japan – staying in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns, often with quite an age and history to them) and visiting many century-old temples, shrines and castles.

But until this trip, we had not overnighted in a rural location, nor in a traditional village house.

Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture is probably the best known tourist destination for those wishing to see quaint villages of gasshou-zukuri (traditional thatched-roof houses), but I had read that the villages become very crowded in high season. And the limited options for overnighting – in a handful of guesthouses with small, low-ceilinged rooms and shared bathrooms – didn’t appeal.

Thanks to a suggestion on a travel discussion website, I started investigating a stay in Miyama instead. Located about an hour’s drive north of Kyoto – just 45 minutes on the train – Miyama is a rural mountainous region of forests and agricultural land. Within the area are over 200 kayabuki (traditional, thatched-roof farmhouses), the majority of which are still residential dwellings. These kayabuki are not quite the same as Gifu’s gasshou-zukuri ones in shape – Gifu roofs take the form of two huge rectangular panels meeting in a steep apex with a plain and squat ridge of thatch across the top, whereas the thatched roofs in Miyama are wider at the bottom than the top, pinching in about two thirds of the way up, and feature a decorative criss-crossed wooden cap atop the ridge.

Miyama Thatched Cottage in Kyoto Japan on Kavey Eats-065037

What really decided me on including Miyama in my itinerary was finding Miyama FUTON & Breakfast (a play on the European bed and breakfast label).

Built around 150 years ago and known as Hanabusa, the house is typical of rural Japanese architecture of the period, influenced by the local climate and lifestyle. Our hosts told us that they think the house was built by a local merchant who made his living as a repairman. It is now owned by Hario Nishio, one of only 50 traditional master thatchers in the entire country – thatching is a dying art as new homes are rarely built with thatched roofs and many owners of older properties choose to convert the thatched roofs to tile for ease of future maintenance.

The idea of offering this traditional home as a holiday rental is to encourage visitors (both Japanese and international) to experience and enjoy the local area and traditional crafts, and of course to admire the beautiful thatch and other features of the house. Guests are offered a range of activities such as walks in the local forest, guided bike rides, cookery lessons of various kinds and a bamboo craft workshop by an expert thatcher.

On arrival guests are met by one of the association’s concierge staff – at the nearest train station for those without a car, or at a local supermarket (more akin to a farmers market than the typical corporate store) for those who are driving. We made our way to the supermarket without difficulty and Taka greeted us before helping us to choose and buy ingredients for our evening meal – local deer meat and locally grown vegetables, mushrooms, tofu and rice.

Shopping done, we followed Taka’s car to the association’s reception office where we filled in the paperwork to check in, purchased some local beers and paid for the bamboo craft workshop we’d arranged for the next morning.

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Local area including a dilapidated thatched house undergoing renovation (not where we stayed), blossoming fruit trees and a Buddhist temple, just behind the house

Finally we were lead to Hanabusa house, sat in a tiny hamlet of dwellings nestled between the hills behind and rice paddy fields and a small river in front.

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The house is really striking. We’d spotted and admired it from the car on our way to the supermarket but hadn’t guessed it would be our home for the night!

A vivid lime-green moss covers most of the thatched roof and some of the tile canopy beneath it; the colour echoing the spring growth in the nearby field. Below the canopy are simple wooden walls and straw mat window coverings.

Already delighted when we pulled up outside, stepping through the sliding door is when my heart really started fluttering.

The door leads through to an earth flooring that extends right through to the back of the house where it opens out into a kitchen dining area. The kitchen is a modern western style with a western dining table provided. The rest of the ground floor is on a raised wooden platform; we remove our shoes before stepping up to reach the tatami-floored sleeping room and tea ceremony room plus the wooden floored living room with it’s large sand-filled irori (Japanese hearth) which we are invited to use for heat and cooking. There is also a lovely glass-walled corridor with views onto the small but pretty back garden.

On the other side of the earthen flooring, to the left of the main entrance is another raised wooden flooring area. A gorgeous wooden stair case leads up to the next level, and behind it on the ground floor are a small sink area, modern bathroom and toilet.

Upstairs is impressive – completely open plan, the flooring is a mix of wooden and tatami, furnished with a few chairs and lamps, the steep straw roof above is open, giving an impressive view of how the thatched roof is constructed. There’s a steep ladder to go up another level onto a small loft platform, also floored with tatami.

With so much space downstairs, we didn’t make much use of the upstairs living areas but they do mean the house is spacious enough to sleep up to 10 or even more.

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This set of images are by Miyama Futon & Breakfast, collage by Kavey Eats

Outside, there’s a round chicken house and small garden, and a modern storehouse.

Keen to settle into the house after our quick tour of it we were surprised when Taka lead us outside to visit the storehouse, until we saw inside. Here, he introduced us to the beautiful suikinkutsu – a traditional Japanese musical garden ornament made by burying a bucket or large jar in the ground. As he poured water slowly into it, we listened using a long bamboo pole, until we heard beautiful bell-like music as the water splashed off the shaped tiles lining the suikinkutsu. Beautiful!

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The only negative about our gorgeous rental was that it was cold! I don’t think anyone had been staying there for a few days before us, so it hadn’t been heated at all. We put all the electric heaters on full blast, but it did take quite a long time for the chill to recede enough to relax.

I particularly loved cooking our meal of local ingredients in the kitchen and over the irori.

We had chosen our local produce at the farmers market style shop where we’d met Taka – deer meat, mushrooms, leeks, some aburaage (deep fried tofu slices) and rice.

I browned the meat briefly on the stove top, then added a simple stock I made with soy sauce, mirin and brown sugar mixed into water. Taka had already helped Pete to light the charcoal earlier, so by this point they were good and hot. Pete transferred the pot to the hook over the irori and we left the meat and stock to cook slowly. After a while he added chopped mushrooms and leeks. Once everything was cooked, he brought the pan to the table and I stirred in the aburaage just before we ate. Once we’d fished out and eaten all the meat and tofu, I poured some rice into the stock and Pete rehung the pot over the hearth until the rice was cooked through.

All in all a delicious dinner, enjoyed with a local sparkling plum drink for me and some local beers for Pete.

Having made up our futons earlier, using three mattresses and two duvets each, we had a good night’s sleep in our peaceful and beautiful house.

The next morning, we woke up early to use the bathroom and get dressed before the breakfast team arrived. It took them quite a long time to make, bustling away in the kitchen while we chilled and read our books at the dining table, but our breakfast of locally made sausages, eggs, salad, fresh bread, yoghurt, juice, milk and coffee was delicious and a great start to the day.

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After breakfast, we came outside to do our pre-arranged bamboo workshop.

Our teacher, professional bamboo thatcher Fumio Kanaya learned his trade from master thatcher Hario Nishio, the owner of our lovely rental house and president of the association through which we booked it. Before we came outside, he had already set out lots of tools for us and several poles of bamboo in varying shades of black, brown and green. These were arranged within the open garage next to Hanabusa house.

On a simple bamboo table were some small items also made from bamboo, for us to look at and decide what to make . We agreed to make little helicopter toys and toy whistles, and quickly set to work.

Taka and another colleague from the association were there to translate, and take a few photos, though we persuaded them to join us and have a go at the projects too. I am pretty sure they had as much fun as we did!

Protective gloves were provided as the knives to carve the bamboo were super sharp, though we quickly got the hang of it and to my surprise, there were no injuries!

It was hugely absorbing and surprisingly relaxing working with the bamboo; so much softer than the wood I remember carving and chiselling in my high school woodwork class three decades ago. Once the helicopter blades were carved to shape, we sanded them smooth, drilled a hole in the centre and shaped a slim rod to provide a handle. Testing them outside we were thrilled when they caught the air and spun slowly to the ground!

For the whistles, we also used saws, chisels, and hole cutting tools, though Fumio advised us not to glue the two pieces together until we got home.

Lastly, with offcuts from one of the largest diameter bamboos, we made some very simple sake cups, the natural segmented shape of the bamboo doing most of the work for us.

As we worked, we learned a little more about the association.

Where once thatched houses were prevalent across rural Japan, they have increasingly fallen out of favour since the mid-20th century. Mr Nishio had travelled to Europe and noticed how Europeans tend to  attach a strong value to the remaining thatched houses, often sold for a premium because of their beautiful appearance (though only to those willing to take on the maintenance). But in Japan, we were told, most people have not yet come to appreciate the beauty of thatched roofs. So one of the core aims of the association is to share the beauty of traditional Japanese thatched roof homes and the skills of the craftsmen who make them.

The other side of the project is to counter the migration of young people from the area to large towns and cities. Many younger Japanese do not want to follow the traditional rural life of their parents and grandparents, and non-agricultural job opportunities here are few and far between. By bringing tourism into the area, the association hopes to encourage young people to live and work in the area, both locals and those from farther afield.

A few hours later, our workshop was done and we carefully packed up our efforts and said our goodbyes.

I would recommend a stay here to anyone wanting to experience the more rural side of Japan. Two nights will give you more time to explore the area and book more of the activities offered by the Miyama FUTON & Breakfast team – I’d have loved to do the mochi making workshop and one of the cookery classes too. There are also nature walks in the nearby forest and bike tours of the area. Make sure you visit nearby Kayabuki no Sato, a cultural heritage site featuring a large cluster of over 30 well-maintained traditional thatched roof houses, one of which is a Folk Museum open to the public.

You can visit Miyama via public transport, especially if you’re happy to hike or bike once you get here. For us, having a rental car was perfect and allowed us to enjoy the area at our own pace before heading onwards to Kyoto for the next part of our itinerary.

With thanks to all at the association, especially Taka and Fumio, for making our stay so special.

Click here for more posts about our experiences in Japan.

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Miyama Kyoto Cottage (Tall Pin)

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Snapshots from Japan | Kinubiki Noodles in Moto-Hakone

Hakone is one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations, famous for its onsen (hot spring) resorts and natural beauty, not least the views of Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji. This mountainous town sits within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park; only 50 miles or so from central Tokyo the area is visited by national and international tourists alike.

There are many small towns – villages really – within Hakone, high up in the mountains and serviced by one of the stations of the Hakone Tozan railway line between Odawara and Gora. We stayed in an elegant, high-end ryokan in Miyanoshita but there are many other places to stay such as Hakone-Yumoto, Tonosawa and Gora. The Tozan railway journey between Hakone-Yumoto and Gora is particularly scenic.

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The pirate ship tourist boats

Alternatively, you can stay down by the lake. Moto-Hakone sits on the southern edge of Lake Ashinoko, from where you can catch tourist boats and ferries to Hakone-machi (fairly close by) or to Togendai and Kojiri at the lake’s northern end.

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Moto-Hakone

On our free day in Hakone we took the Tozan line from Miyanoshita to Gora, then the steep little funicular from Gora to Sounzan. Usually we’d have taken the ropeway from there but part of it was not operation because of volcanic activity in the area, so we took a bus down to Owakudani where we were able to use the ropeway for the rest of the journey down to the lake. There we boarded one of the pirate ships and crossed over to Moto-Hakone for a little light sightseeing. Later, we hopped on a local bus back to our base in Miyanoshita.

 Lake Ashi Hakone Japan. On Kavey Eats-02
Hopping aboard the local bus in Moto-Hakone

The main attraction of Moto-Hakone, other than the lake views themselves, is Hakone Shrine which sits in the forest just at the outskirts of the small urban area and port. The stone steps up the main shrine and down to the torii gate that sits out on the water are very steep, making access difficult for those with limited mobility.

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Hakone Shrine

After our walk in the forest, we picked our lunch spot Kinubiki-no-Sato based on its menu – I’d never encountered their kinubiki noodles before and wanted to try them.

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Kinubiki noodles in broth

The restaurant specialises in noodles and offers three types – udon (wheat noodles), soba (buckwheat noodles) and the special kinubuki (noodles made from wheat mixed with sesame). You can have these with various combinations of other items such as tempura, and as with soba, they can be served hot or cold.

My best guess is that the name of the noodles refers to their beautiful silkiness, but I can’t find much reference to them at all, so I think they may be a dish created and named by this restaurant.

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Katsudon with small bowl of kinubiki

Pete ordered kinubiki in broth. I went for katsudon (breaded and fried pork and egg over rice with onions and a savoury sauce mixed through) with a small side of kinubiki. We both enjoyed the kinubiki noodles though we didn’t feel the taste of sesame came through much at all. Their texture, and the two broths they were served in, were simple and delicious.

Have you come across kinubiki noodles before? Was it at the same little restaurant in Moto-Hakone or somewhere else? What did you think?

You may like to check out my other posts about my travels to Japan.Save

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Beauty, Culture & Relaxation at Hoshinoya Karuizawa

If any one nation excels at skilfully enhancing an area of natural beauty to make it even more beautiful, it must surely be Japan?

Certainly, we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful setting than HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, located in an area known colloquially as the Japanese Alps.

Karuizawa is not only one of the flagships of the Hoshino Resorts portfolio, it is also where the family business started over 100 years ago. As I mentioned in my post about an incredible dinner we enjoyed at Hoshinoya Kyoto, this family hospitality business was founded over a 100 years ago. After first setting up a forestry business in the area, Kuniji Hoshino decided to take advantage of the area’s increased popularity as a holiday resort by opening a ryokan and hot spring on his property in 1914. Today, fourth-generation family member Yoshiharu Hoshino is CEO of the company and has lead the business through two decades of transformation and expansion, modernising existing properties and purchasing several new ones.

Karuizawa has been hugely updated since Kuniji’s era. In 2005 the resort was completely rebuilt with all-new accommodation, absolutely stunning landscaping and a new meditation bath and spa building to match.

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Hoshinoya Karuizawa Resort

The residential area of the resort is laid out in a series of low rise buildings arranged around a lake and streams fed by the Yukawa River. The water twists and turns its way through the resort grounds – in slow languid loops paddled by contented ducks, racing over weirs in a bubbling rush, or tumbling delicately over a series of mini terraces in graceful waterfalls.

A few of the residences, like our Mizunami villa, house just one large guest suite but most rooms are grouped together in larger villas – these rooms can be booked individually or by groups of families, friends or colleagues. Many of the rooms have a view of the lake or streams. Some, slightly higher up the hillside enjoy views towards the mountains and a few have garden spaces that back onto the bird-rich forest below.

Our room (below) was airy and open with high ceilings, pretty pale green walls, and muted fabrics. Utterly gorgeous! The natural wood and stones are a nod to the more traditional Japanese inns but the design is very much a modern aesthetic. We loved the sense of space and calm, not to mention luxurious comfort – underfloor heating in the bathroom!

Every evening, shortly before dusk falls, two staff take a row boat out onto the lake and light, one by one, the tethered candles floating on the surface.

We watched them from our balcony, whilst enjoying hot tea and a delicious local delicacy – walnut-flavoured gyuhu mochi, a softer style of mochi sweets made by a local wagashi specialist to a traditional local recipe – served to us in our room shortly after we arrived by Mei, one of the Hoshino guest services team.

Looking out onto the lake as darkness fell and the candles twinkled and bobbed on the waters is one of the most peaceful and magical of memories.

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Our room, 110.

But sitting looking out at the view was not our only way to relax.

Within the resort area is a modern spa building which is open all night, closed for just a few hours in the middle of the day. At its heart are the gender-separated Meditation Baths. Each features a deeper-than-usual hot bath that opens out from a waterfall entrance area into Hikari – a bright high-ceilinged space where you can soak within the warm water and light. Hikari is connected by a passage way to Yami – a dark, low ceilinged bathing area, recommended for quiet meditation.

What we really appreciated was being able to use these whenever we wanted – early morning, afternoon, before dinner, after dinner… Dressed in our in-room yukata (robes) and outer jackets, with clog-like geta on our feet, we clip-clopped along paths lit with nightlights and across the modern suspension bridge to arrive at the spa building.

There are also a range of treatments available, from traditional health and beauty treatments to more unusual options such as facial acupressure, warming eye care and moxibustion workshops; never heard of moxibustion? No, neither had we but we spent a wonderful hour learning all about it, more of which below!

Also worth visiting is the original onsen (hot spring), Tombo-no-yu – a short walk from the residential area. Open to both residents and general visitors, but allowing exclusive access to Hoshino guests at certain times of the day, Tombo-no-yu offers a more traditional onsen experience with gender-separated bathing areas offering indoor and outdoor pools of the usual shallower proportions.

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These 4 images provided by Hoshino Resorts – Left: Meditation Spa; Right: Tombo-no-yu onsen

Another place we enjoyed is the Tsudoi building, overlooking a hillside landscaped into gentle terraces over which streams gently cascade. It houses the main reception, a small shop, a lounge library area and the Kasuke Japanese restaurant.

We watched in rapt delight as a male and female duck gingerly followed each other downwards over a couple of the little waterfalls, swimming along a length of stream before paddling out onto a patch of grass. Not long afterwards another young male tried to play the gooseberry and join the party but eventually realised he wasn’t welcome. He paddled away, playing it cool until he slipped accidentally over the lip of another waterfall, looking rather undignified as he landed clumsily before quickly swimming away!

The lounge is a lovely place to while away a little time, with a range of teas, coffee and chocolates available to help yourself. During the afternoon, guests are invited to try a more traditional confectionary served by Hoshino staff. Most of the books in the library are in Japanese, though we did enjoy a bilingual guide to Sushi that we spotted on one of the shelves.

At reception (or via phone from your room if you prefer), you can request one of the resorts cars to transfer you to any of the locations outside of the residential resort area. These include the restaurants of sister-hotel Bleston Court, local sites such as the Stone Church, the Kogen Church, the Picchio Visitors Centre (more on which later) or Hoshino’s Harunire Terrace (where you’ll find a range of restaurants and shops). Any of these will also call a car to collect you, when you are ready to head back to the resort.

Of course, you are welcome to walk if you like and there are also local walking paths in the area which Reception staff can tell you more about.

The Stone Church, also known as the Hoshino Chapel, was designed by American architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg. Built in 1988 to commemorate Uchimura Kanzo (a Japanese journalist, author, Christian evangelist and leader of the Non-Church Movement) the church is strikingly modern in design yet integrates beautifully into the landscape. Built of stark concrete and grey stone, the church is surprisingly warm and beautiful, especially the inside chapel with a living wall of green plants and beautifully carved wooden pews beneath soaring curved arches and windows above. I wish we’d given ourselves more time to explore and enjoy the avant-garde architecture and serene vibe; it’s really an incredible and quite unexpected place.

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The Stone Church

Nearby is the much older Kogen Church and this too traces its roots back to Uchimura Kanzo. Originally, it was not a church but a lecture hall, designated as a place of learning and enjoyment by Kanzo in 1921. After the second world war, it was renamed as the Karuizawa Kogen Church and is today both a place of worship and a venue for concerts and events. In the summer, a candle light festival is hugely popular, with the entire approach and church itself lit by many hundreds of candles. What a sight that must be!

What I most loved about Kogen was the display next door of wedding photos of couples who have married here, hundreds and hundreds of them displayed in frames or tucked into albums. Staff told us that many couples come back to celebrate their anniversaries and to show their children where they were wed.

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The Kogen Church

Guests at both Hoshinoya Karuizawa and Hotel Bleston Court have plenty of choice for dinner, both formal and casual.

Yukawatan, in Bleston Court, is a renowned French restaurant headed by Chef Noriyuki Hamada, the only Japanese chef to secure a coveted Bocuse d’Or medal. I would very much like to dine at Yukawatan on our next visit as Hamada’s cooking is reputed to be of an incredibly high level.

Nearby Harunire Terrace is the home to Il Sogno (Italian), Kisurin (Chinese), Kawakami-an (Soba noodle) and Cercle (French) restaurants plus a bakery, a gelateria and a traditional Japanese confectionery shop. There are other cafes and restaurants also in the vicinity.

Kasuke Japanese restaurant is a beautiful space, located in the Tsudoi building. The ceiling is high, high, high above the traditional foot-well tables that look out through floor to ceiling windows across the beautiful landscaped gardens. Breakfast can also be taken here but we visited for a traditional kaiseki dinner (images below), an excellent choice which we felt it was very reasonably priced at just 12,000 Yen per person (excluding tax and service), much less than meals of this calibre and style that we enjoyed elsewhere.

The feast of over ten courses – appetiser, soup, sashimi, a fried dish, charcoal-grilled vegetables, assorted small bites, a steak and salmon course, rice (with pickles and miso soup), fresh fruit, and finally tea and a Japanese sweet – were served by Mie. Mie was like a personal butler during our visit, she took us to our room on arrival, served us tea and wagashi to welcome us as she told us more about the resort and our itinerary and escorted us to many of our activities during our stay.

Highlights of the meal included many local woodland vegetables that we had not encountered before; the simple but utterly perfect grilled onion and udo (mountain asparagus) course served to our table by one of the chefs who carefully peeled the charred skins off the vegetables before portioning and serving them to us with a homemade sesame miso, salt and olive oil – their flesh was silky soft and sweet and with a hint of smokiness; the tokun strawberry (so named because it smells like a peach, and it really does!) and hyuganatsu citrus served for dessert alongside a Japanese version of affogato – kuromoji (a medicinal tea made from a native shrub) poured over a ball of fuki (giant butterbur) ice cream.

Another aspect that really wowed us was the matching drinks flight – a very clever mix of European red and white wines and traditional Japanese sakes, extremely well matched to the diverse ingredients, flavours and textures of all our courses – one of the best we’ve encountered.

Our only disappointments when it came to dining at the resort, were room-service dining, which we tried for both a breakfast and a dinner – really overpriced for what was served in both cases – and the breakfast we ate at Bleston Court’s No One’s Recipe – alternatively described as French and American, it wasn’t really either, offering a bizarre selection of no-choice galette plus a buffet of soups, lasagne, patés, salads and desserts. I would have preferred a typical French, American or traditional Japanese breakfast over this rather random and not very well-balanced offering.

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Traditional kaiseki dinner in Kasuke restaurant

Although we could happily have whiled away our time lazing in our room, soaking in the Meditation Baths and onsen hot springs, and exploring the resort and local area, we also took advantage of some of the activities on offer at Hoshinoya Karuizawa.

Knowing my interest in Japanese food, the resort suggeested a wonderful lesson in making Oyaki (sweet, bean-filled dumplings). One of the resort’s chefs, Chef Yamamoto Hidemasa was on hand to show us how these are made, though I let Pete do all the hard work!

Because of the time available, chef Yamamoto had already made the three different fillings for our dumplings – one of mashed roasted pumpkin, one of aubergine and miso and the last a simple azuki (red bean) paste – but gave me instructions on how to make these simple fillings at home.

Oyaki dough can be made with buckwheat or regular wheat flour, we used the latter. The first step was for Pete to make the dough, for which he combined flour, baking powder, cold water, sugar and a little salt  and knead it well. Needing to sit and rise overnight, chef Yamamoto switched the dough for one he’d made the previous day and showed Pete how to form and fill the dumplings and the two of them went ahead and made a few with each of the three fillings.

After the lesson, we headed to Kasuke where Mie served hot tea and a few minutes later, chef Yamamoto served the freshly cooked dumplings Pete had helped to make. He had steamed them for ten minutes before briefly frying to give them little golden caps.

The soft steamed texture of the dough and delicious fillings were utterly delicious and this is definitely a recipe we’re going to try and recreate at home!

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Oyaki lesson

Another activity the resort arranged for us was a Moxbustion workshop.

Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicinal treatment that involves placing pieces of dried mugwort – an aromatic plant often used as a herb – on meridian points of the body and burning. Today, it is common for the mugwort to be processed into small stick-on moxa (named for the Japanese word for mugwort, mugosa) which can be easily attached to the skin and lit. A small padded disc protects the skin from any burn damage as the mugwort burns down.

The meridian points, also known as chi, are the same ones used for acupuncture and acupressure, so it may simply be the application of heat to those locations is what has an effect, rather than the properties of the mugwort itself.

Practitioners believe that moxibustion can improve blood circulation and metabolism, boost the immune system and reduce stress. As with acupuncture and acupressure, specific meridian points are also associated with different aspects of health.

Our tutor Mr Funada, with the aid of his colleague and a member of Hoshino’s staff to translate for us, introduced us to the treatment and applied several moxa to our wrist and feet meridians. He explained which points to use for stress relief and good sleep, for reduction of eyestrain and neck pain, for healing gastrointestinal and gynaelogical symptoms and more. I also asked for points specific to shoulder and back pain.

I used to be very cynical about alternative medicines, lumping ancient practices such as acupuncture and Ayurvedic remedies in with homeopathy and crystals (both of which I think are pure hokum). But I have come to realise through experience that many of the ancient Asian medicine techniques are effective and many are now being researched and recognised by Western medicine. Certainly acupuncture, applied by a professional physiotherapist, has relieved severe back and neck pain for me in the past and some of the (rather foul-tasting) Indian herb and spice remedies have also been helpful with joint pain.

Whether or not moxibustion works because of properties within the burning mugwort or via the application of heat to the body’s meridian points, I can’t tell but certainly the neck, shoulder and back pain I’d been suffering with for the previous few days eased following the workshop. Of course, that could also have been courtesy of the long soaks in the hot soothing waters of the Meditation Baths!

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Moxibustion workshop

One of the things that excited us about visiting Karuizawa was the chance to see local wildlife. Pete and I have spent many happy holidays travelling to watch wildlife in its native habitat, from East and Southern African safaris where we thrilled at the sightings of lions, elephants, cheetahs and more to Galapagos Island bird and reptile viewing all the way down to Antarctica for penguins, seals and albatrosses.

The Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel, known in Japan as musasabi, may not sound like a very exciting wildlife encounter but for us, it was thrilling!

Our tour was provided by Picchio, an ecotourism organisation established by Hoshino in 1992. Picchio offers a variety of nature tours in the local area and is also active in local conservation activities including the protection of Asian Wild Bears, found in the region.

Before we left the visitors’ centre, located just opposite the Tombo-no-yu onsen buildings, our guide Motoi Inoue gave us an introductory presentation about the animal we were hoping to see. Luckily for us, Inoue spoke fluent English, so he kindly repeated everything in both Japanese and English, allowing us to fully appreciate these fascinating little creatures. His enthusiasm was infectious! We learned about their physiology (including size – much bigger than most of us guessed), what they naturally eat and the variation in the size of their territories depending on the density of their chosen food source in a given area.

Best of all, we learned that our chances of seeing them on the evening’s tour were extremely high. Giant flying squirrels sleep in nests during the day, coming out at night to feed. Two things make Picchio’s squirrel observation tours so successful. Firstly, research has found that musasabi come out of their nest approximately 30 minutes after sunset, sticking to a pretty tight + /- 15 minutes of that time. Secondly, Picchio have created 14 nest boxes for the local musasabi to use, each of which have a camera inside. Unlike many animals, musasabi switch from nest to nest, often on a nightly basis and also show no qualms about using a nest that a different squirrel used the previous night. The video cameras allow Picchio staff to check during the day which of the boxes are in use allowing the guides to direct enthusiastic visitors to one of the boxes shortly ahead of the approximate exit time, based on the time of sunset that evening. There are no absolute guarantees, but their success rate is very high.

Fortune was smiling on us in many ways that evening. The box Inoue had selected was easily accessible, within 10 minutes walk of the visitors’ centre and nailed to a tree within a tarmacked parking area that had just two or three cars in a distant corner. Better still, Inoue carried with him a laptop screen and cables which allowed him to plug into a socket at the base of the tree and show us on screen the camera feed from inside. We quickly discovered that our nest box contained several bundles of squirming fur which Inoue identified as a mother, two very young pups and an older sibling from a previous litter.

Standing a respectful distance away from the nest, each of us furnished with loan binoculars, we watched the nest eagerly, the exit lit by red torchlight that neither disturbs the animals nor damages their night vision or eyesight.

Inoue warned us that it was unlikely the mother would leave the nest as the pups were still very young; she had not left during the previous nights since their birth. However it was almost certain that the older sibling to the pups would come out for a night feed. As the time approached, we saw him peek his head out of the nest a few times, and then, suddenly, he came all the way out, looked around him at the nearby trees around the car park, and scampered up to the top of the tree. Moments later he launched, all four limbs akimbo to create the wings that allow him to glide swiftly to another tree. Once landed, he scampered up to the top once again.

Initially, the plan had been to walk quietly towards the landing tree in the hopes of seeing a second flight, but Inoue quickly asked us to stay still, noticing that the mother had poked her head out of the nest to have a look around – we didn’t want to risk disturbing her. To our enormous delight and surprise, the mother chose this night to leave her pups for the first time, and we watched her speed up the tree before launching and gliding across to another. Not only were we elated to see a second flight from a second animal, we were also able to get a clearer camera view of the pups now that they were alone inside the nest.

Just as we thought our tour complete, Inoue’s assistant alerted us to the distinctive call of another musasabi – an adult male in a tree nearby. Using the red torchlight, the newcomer was located atop one of the tallest trees in the vicinity. Giddy with excitement, we watched him glide to a tree very close to where we stood and then onwards again right over our heads to a tree deeper in the forest!

As you can probably tell, we were utterly captivated by this experience, even more so given its location within the heart of the resort.

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Picchio Flying Squirrel Observation Tour

For us, the charm of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa lies in its offering of natural beauty and wildlife skilfully enhanced by delightful landscaping, the chance to immerse oneself in cultural activities and to explore the local area and sights, the opportunities to relax and recuperate and of course, the absolute joy of eating well.

Prices start at around 30,000 Yen per person for a twin or double room (without meals) though there are significant savings available for booking more than three months in advance (with prices dropping to 18,000 Yen per person). Our kaiseki dinner at Kasune was 12,000 Yen per person plus tax and service; menus and prices for other dining options are available online. Activities such as the moxibustion workshop we attended, and beauty treatments such as facial acupressure and onsen body work are priced at 2,000 Yen per person. The oyaki making activity is 8,000 Yen per group.

Kavey Eats were guests of Hoshino Resorts for one night of our two night stay at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, the other night was paid by us at the full standard rate. We were also invited to review the kaiseki dinner at Kasuke restaurant and breakfast at No Ones Recipes. All other meals and drinks were covered by us. Our activities during the stay were organised by Hoshino Resorts.

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Harumi Kurihara’s Green Beans with Minced Pork

A few days ago I shared my review of Everyday Harumi by Harumi Kurihara. Kurihara is one of Japan’s most well known cookery book writers and TV cookery show presenters and also runs a chain of home ware shops and cafes, and publishes a quarterly recipe magazine. To write Everyday Harumi, she spent time living, shopping and cooking in England all the better to ensure that the recipes were achievable for British cooks.

We have made her delicious green beans with minced pork a few times and love the balance of flavours and textures. It’s quick and simple to cook and a small amount of meat goes a long way, so it’s perfect if you’re trying to reduce the amount of meat you eat.

Don’t forget, you can win a copy of the new paperback edition of Everyday Harumi in my latest giveaway.

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Green Beans with Minced Pork

This dish is something of a tradition in my household. It is easy to prepare, only needing soy sauce for seasoning, and makes use of wonderful ingredients like ginger, garlic and Japanese leeks. It is a great dish that can be rustled up quickly if guests drop in unexpectedly. I usually serve it with white rice and if there are any leftovers, they don’t last long in our house.

Serves 4

Ingredients
500 g green beans
40 g leek
15 g fresh ginger, peeled
8 g garlic
Sunflower or vegetable oil – for frying
200 g minced pork
30–45 ml soy sauce
sliced fresh or dried red chillies – to taste
sesame oil – to taste

Method

  • Prepare the green beans, lightly cook in boiling water, then rinse under cold running water.
  • Drain the beans, pat-dry and cut diagonally into easy-to-eat pieces.
  • Finely chop the leek, ginger and garlic.
  • Put a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Add the chopped leek, ginger and garlic, allowing the flavours to infuse in the oil, then add the minced pork and stir-fry.
  • Add the green beans, then add soy sauce and red chilli to taste.
  • Continue to cook until the beans have heated through. Add a little sesame oil to taste and serve with hot white rice.

Recipe extracted from Everyday Harumi with permission from Conran Octopus.

Everyday Harumi by Harumi Kurihara is published by Conran Octopus. The hardback edition is currently available on Amazon for £16.59 (RRP £20). The newly published paperback version is available on Amazon for £13.48 (RRP £14.99).

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Snapshots of Japan | Visiting The Giant Seated Amida Buddha in Kamakura

Formally known as the Seated Amida Buddha, more commonly called the Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) of Kamakura, this beautiful Buddhist statue was cast from bronze in the mid-13th century, to replace a similarly large wooden Daibutsu completed just a few years earlier but damaged soon after in a storm.

Originally a hall was built to enclose the bronze statue; this too was damaged in a storm. The hall was rebuilt and destroyed by the weather multiple times during the following two centuries, but after the hall was once again washed away by the tsunami of 1498 the Great Buddha was left out in the open. Unsheltered from the elements, Daibutsu was at risk of deterioration, until a temple priest and an Asakusa merchant built a new temple, Kōtoku-in to protect and worship it in 1712.

The base upon which the statue sits was destroyed in an earthquake in 1923, the new plinth being built shortly afterwards. In the 1960s, repairs were made to the statue itself, with the neck strengthened to better withstand future natural disasters.

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Two visitors taking photos of the Giant Buddha

At over 13 metres in height (including the base) Daibutsu is very imposing and the beautiful green tones of oxidised bronze are beautiful against the greenery and blossoms of spring. That said, it must have looked very different when new – it was originally covered with gold leaf, of which only traces remain near its ears.

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Our first glimpse of Daibutsu; Pete in front of Daibutsu; our friend offering a prayer; the throng of fellow visitors

Visitors can also enter into the Buddha via a small side entrance into the plinth, which affords an insight into the casting and assembly of the statue. Entrance to this is 20 yen, but note that it’s not for the claustrophobic!

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Incense dome; cherry blossoms; a man worshipping the Kannon Statue within Kangetsudo (Moon Viewing Hall) behind Daibutsu; the roof of Kangetsudo

The nearest train station to Kōtoku-in Temple is Hase, about 10 minutes walk, or you can walk from Kamakura station in 20-30 minutes. Entrance to the temple costs 200 yen per person.

If you can manage a lot of stairs you may also enjoy a visit to nearby Hasedera (Hase Temple), which affords beautiful views of the area from its main terrace half way up the hill.

You may also enjoy these posts about my travels to Japan.

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Captivating Kaiseki Cuisine at Hoshinoya Kyoto

Is there anything more charming than a restaurant to which one travels by small boat along a serene stretch of river in one of Japan’s most beautiful cities? One that also serves the highest quality Japanese cuisine, each dish a perfect balance between traditional classic and inventive modern?

If there is, I am yet to find it but it certainly has a hard act to follow in Hoshinoya Kyoto, a top-level kaiseki ryōri restaurant within the luxury inn of the same name.

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Kaiseki cuisine is a traditional multi-course meal consisting of a succession of seasonal, local and beautifully presented little dishes. Although its origins are in the simple food served as part of a traditional tea ceremony, it has evolved over centuries into a far more elaborate dining style now served in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) and specialised restaurants.

Such meals usually have a prescribed order to what is served, though each chef takes pride in designing and presenting their own menus based on local delicacies, seasonal ingredients and their personal style.

A typical meal may include a small drink or amuse-bouche to start, a selection of stunningly presented small appetisers, a sashimi (raw seafood) course, takiawase (which translates as ‘a little something’ and is most commonly vegetables with meat or fish alongside), futamono (a ‘lidded dish’, often a soup but sometimes combined into the takiawase course in the form of a broth with simmered ingredients served within it), sometimes there is a small tempura item (battered and deep fried) or some grilled fish, all this to be followed by a more substantial dish such as a meat hot pot or grilled steak with local seasonal vegetables, then rice served with miso soup and pickles, and finally fresh fruit or another dessert.

If that sounds like a lot, it is! That said, most of the dishes are small enough that most diners are able to enjoy the full meal comfortably, albeit with very little room left by the time the rice arrives! And most kaiseki menus don’t include every single one of the courses above, though they usually cover the majority.

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Views of Hoshinoya Kyoto; the hotel grounds later in the evening

Hoshino Resorts is a family business launched over 100 years ago when Kuniji Hoshino founded a forestry business in Karuizawa. The area, nicknamed the Japanese Alps, became increasingly popular as a location for holiday villas and in 1914 Kuniji opened a ryokan there which is still one of the company’s flagship properties today, albeit hugely updated since Kuniji’s era. Today, fourth-generation family member Yoshiharu Hoshino is CEO of the company and has lead the business through two decades of transformation and expansion, modernising existing properties and purchasing several new ones that are marketed under the brands Hoshinoya, Kai and Risonare.

A few years ago Hoshino Resorts purchased a beautiful historical Kyoto property originally constructed in the 16th century as the home of Ryoi Suminokura, a wealthy merchant and trusted advisor to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Suminokura played a major role in the construction of Kyoto’s canals and river systems, earning him extended shipping rights within the city. He built his beautiful home in the bamboo forests of Arashimaya, on the banks of the Katsura River. In the centuries following, his home was turned into a traditional ryokan.

In 2012 the ryokan closed for two years while the company completely refurbished the property, retaining and enhancing its historical treasures.They hired Japan’s most skilled architects and designers to repair the existing property and to design and construct extensions in keeping with the original yet offering a more modern luxury and comfort. The best artisans in their fields were invited to repair original pieces and to create new furniture and artworks throughout.

The newly completed resort opened in 2014 and has been another flagship for the brand ever since.

At the helm of Hoshinoya Kyoto’s kitchen is Head Chef Ichiro Kubota. Kubota’s father was the head chef at one of Kyoto’s top restaurants and instilled in his son an appreciation of culinary excellence and Japanese traditions. Initially intending to become an artist, Kubota studied art as well as English language; indeed it was a two year stint studying in America that helped him better appreciate the beauty of Kyoto’s culture and cuisine, and to change his focus and career plans. Kubota went on to train as a chef under his father and in many of the region’s top kaiseki restaurants before heading to Europe. There he apprenticed at Paris’ three-star Michelin restaurant Georges Blanc where he perfected classic French techniques, also taking advantage of days off to eat his way around Europe. He was poached from Paris in 2004 to head up the kitchen of Umu, London’s first Kyoto-style banquet restaurant. After seven years (and a Michelin star of his own, awarded within a few months of Umu’s launch) Kubota accepted the invitation to head up Hoshinoya Kyoto’s new restaurant – keen to return with all the expertise and knowledge he had gained and receive recognition in the home of the cuisine.

Since then, Kubota has developed a truly incredible offering that brings many innovative touches to this most traditional of formats.

So often, when chefs try to modernise classic dishes and methods, it just doesn’t work – it’s either so far from the original so as to be virtually unrecognisable (in which case naming it as such seems a travesty) or it simply isn’t as good and is therefore a rather pointless change. But Kubota achieves what very few do, retaining all that is glorious about the best traditional kaiseki ryōri whilst also applying European influences and modern techniques, flavours and presentations to each dish he serves – and these innovations not only work, they positively shine!

A meal at Kubota’s table is one to keenly anticipate; his reputation – and Hoshinoya’s – have already earned him high praise and the restaurant has a consistently busy reservations book. Most of the diners are, of course, residents of the resort but others, like us, book in for dinner only. The kaiseki menu is priced at 20,000 yen per person plus taxes and service, very much in line with Kyoto’s high end restaurants.

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Arashimaya at dusk: tourists in kimonos, tourists on the river bank, a bride under the cherry blossom, our boat at the Hoshinoya Kyoto landing dock

The journey to Hoshinoya Kyoto starts at the Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashimaya, a famous West Kyoto district that is popular with locals and tourists alike. If you’ve not visited, a stroll through the famous bamboo groves followed by a visit to Tenryuji Temple are both umissable activities; Tenryuji’s garden is amongst my favourite of the Japanese temple gardens we have visited. There are many other attractions in this area too – more temples, a scenic railway line, tourist boat trips (including trips to observe cormorant fishing in season) and even a monkey park, if you are so inclined.

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On the boat to Hoshinoya Kyoto; views from the boat

The Hoshinoya dock is close to Togetsukyo Bridge and easy to find. We are lead onto a small boat with large windows around the passenger area to enjoy the view. The boat slowly putt-putts its way up the river taking about 15 minutes to reach the hotel’s landing dock, where we are greeted by guest relations manager, Tomoko Tsuchida.

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Arriving at the hotel by boat; the path up to the restaurant and hotel

After taking a few photos in the darkening dusk outside, Tomoko takes us into the restaurant and shows us to our counter seats, of which there are 8. The other 30 covers are at regular tables. Tomoko settles us in, gives us the menu for the meal to come (which lists each course in both Japanese and English) and serves our meal assisted by an army of polite, well-trained and quick-footed waiting staff. Each dish is carefully explained and any questions patiently answered; sometimes the origins or patterns of the artisanal tableware are explained too – traditional lacquerware with painted gold flowers and fish, sake cups from Shigaraki (a pottery town we visited just two days earlier), and other beautiful handmade plates, bowls and cups.

Throughout the meal we watch the two chefs stationed in front of us create the first three courses again and again. Other chefs work on other courses in other kitchen spaces and their dishes appear in front of us as finished master pieces, from the fourth course onwards.

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Before the first morsel arrives, we are served a glass of Kasegi Gashira, a junmai sake with a light, lemony flavour that is accentuated by the mugwort pudding that arrives shortly afterwards.

I’ve been learning in recent years, and shared my beginner’s guide to sake last year, but am still a novice when it comes to selecting sake from a list. Luckily Tomoko gave us some suggestions for the two sakes we choose to accompany the rest of the meal.

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The amuse bouche is listed as Mugwort pudding with white shrimp, chopped fern root, horse tail bud, lily root petal and umami jelly. Tomoko explains that Mugwort is a sign of spring, and the dish is the introduction to their very seasonal menu. Near the property is a field of greens and yellows with a lone cherry blossom tree within it; the construction of the dish has been designed to represent this scene. The dish as a whole is light and refreshing, though I’m still not sure I could describe mugwort to you – I’d say slightly bitter with a hint of floral.

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When our next sake is served, we are offered a box of sake cups to choose from, each one a very different design. I recognise the distinctive look of an unglazed Shigaraki piece and of course, I select that one. This sake, in the very pretty blue bottle, is a junmai daiginjo made by Eikun, a sake brewery located in Kyoto’s Fushimi district, an area known for sake production. It has a rich, deep flavour, strong and punchy, not at all like the lighter one we started with. It’s unlike any sake I’ve tried before, and I like it.

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The selection of appetisers served next are beautifully presented; each item listed separately on the menu.

From left to right: bamboo shoot and cuttlefish marinated with cod roe dressing, lady fish sushi, simmered hamaguri clam and river lettuce with umami jelly, deep fried Japanese dace, broad bean stuffed with shrimp dumpling, simmered baby octopus with sweet soy sauce with simmered sea bream roe with ginger

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The dace fish, Tomoko explains, is threaded onto the skewer in an Ƨ shape so that it looks as though it is swimming!

I don’t pay much attention to the little leaf sat on the octopus and sea bream, and don’t realise until later that one of the intense flavours I detect on eating this is from the leaf rather than the braising spices used to cook the seafood.

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The next course is one that the chefs at our counter are responsible for, and throughout our meal we watch them make it again and again; their intense focus and attention to detail as they construct each plate is a pleasingly practised choreography.

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Described on the menu simply as Seasonal sashimi Hoshinoya style, Tomoko is on hand to give us all the details. When she tells us the plate itself is a design known as ‘blossom falling in the wind’, I realise I’m so focused on the beautiful food that I didn’t even glance at the plate. A good reminder to observe all the wonderful details.

The two pieces at the edges are the same; the one in the centre is different. The two pieces are both baby melon on fresh seaweed, wrapped in sea bream with diced wasabi and sea urchin on top. The ‘crystal jelly’ spooned onto the plate at the two corners is made from konbu stock and the white foam ball is sakura flavoured. A home made soy sauce dressing is provided for the outer two pieces.

The centre sushi is a piece of fresh sea bream roe which has been briefly boiled and then grilled. On top is a tiny layer of pureed leek topped with a circle of Japanese tangerine jelly (the citrus fruit chosen for its exact balance between sweet and sour) melted over the top, and a single Japanese red peppercorn sat on the jelly. The plate is garnished with crisp sugar snap peas and edible leaves and flowers.

The entire plate is altogether stunning, especially the sea bream roe which melt-pops in the mouth as though it’s filled with a mild and creamy liquid center. This dish is about beauty, freshness, seasonality, texture and flavours and it’s delightful!

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As we open the poached greenling coated with Domyoji sweet rice crumbs in a clear soup with yuba cake and fern root Tomoko tells us to check for the fish artwork under the lid before explaining how best to enjoy the soup. First, on lifting the lid, bend over the dish and inhale the aromas released, especially of the fragrant sansho leaf sat on top. Move the leaf into the broth so it can impart a little flavour, then use your chopsticks to hold back the other ingredients as you sip the broth. Finally, enjoy the other ingredients in the bowl.

This time, when I eat the leaf it’s a knockout punch to the taste buds! Not only is the flavour intense, it comes with a tingling numbing sensation akin to eating Sichuan peppercorns – I wonder if the two plants are related? The numbness lasts for a good few minutes, so you may prefer to nibble just a tiny bit of leaf for a hint of the flavour, and set the rest aside.

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Next comes charcoal grilled king fish glazed with rapeseed sauce. The fish is rich and meaty, and the seasonal topping of spring onions with rapeseed greenery is delicious. To visually represent the yellow of rapeseed flowers, bright yellow karasumi (salt-preserved mullet fish roe) is grated over the top – it contributes to the flavour too, of course. Also on the plate are baby ginger, shiitake mushroom and udo, a mountain vegetable.

Hoshinoya Kyoto in Japan on Kavey Eats-8612

Shiraki Brewery in Gifu are the makers of this unusual Daruma Masamune sake that has been aged at room temperature for 15 years. The flavour is incredible, reminiscent of mushrooms though that makes it sound unpleasant when it’s actually very delicious!

Although aged sake is nothing new, today’s market is predominantly focused on new sake, released every spring – to the extent that Shiraki faced both bemusement and confusion when they first started to sell their 3, 5 and 10 year old aged sakes in the 1970s. Aged sake is still not very common, but these days there are enough aficionados to make this a premium drink.

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The next course arrives in a very unusual dish, unlike any I’ve seen before. If you’re starting to feel full just reading about this multi-course meal, I can assure you, it’s exactly how we feel as the containers are placed before us and we wonder if we can do justice to the contents.

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Inside the custom-crafted clay container (with one clay lid and one made from wood) are pieces of beef fillet and simmered spring vegetables. Wasabi and salt crystals sit in the condiment spaces, though for me the beef is perfectly seasoned as it comes and it’s absolutely superb – full of beefy flavour, meltingly soft without being pappy and cooked to just the right point. Hard to beat beef (and cooking) of this quality!

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Lest you think the savoury courses are over because the ‘main’ dish has been served, as with any Japanese meal, the rice course is still to come. Tomoko brings out a black lidded dish of seasoned rice with bamboo shoot topped with charcoal grilled conger eel which is served with red miso soup, assorted Japanese pickles and green tea.

We ask for small portions to be served, and the eel is delicious, so we do dig in even though we manage just a few mouthfuls each.

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Next comes an elegant strawberry and mint financier, strawberry sauce and rich milk ice cream served on a chilled metal block. The flavours are vivid, and brought to life by the tiny fragments of mint on the top.

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But lest we think that a more traditional Japanese dessert has been dropped in favour of the French-style patisserie, a second dessert arrives of melon and papaya with mint, served with a cup of hojicha (roasted black tea).

The papaya is nice enough but the melon, oh my goodness, this is the most delicious melon I’ve ever tasted! I ask for more information and learn that it’s a green melon from the musk melon family and grown in Shizuoka Prefecture. It’s so perfectly ripe that the perfume is heady and the flavour intense, with a texture that is almost liquid in the mouth. It’s glorious and a genuinely revelationary experience!

Full to bursting, yet a little sad that such an incredible meal has come to an end, we are walked to the reception area to settle our drinks bill before one of the resort’s private cars drives us back to Togetsukyo Bridge for our onward journey back to our hotel.

On this trip, we experienced several high end kaiseki meals and this one was our clear favourite (though others were certainly excellent, more of which soon). Kubota’s delightful weaving together of traditional Japanese techniques, ingredients and dishes with global influences from his exploration of world cuisine, along with his whimsical, artistic, delightful presentation lifted this meal to another level.

Kavey Eats dined at Hoshinoya Kyoto as guests of Hoshino Resorts.

Tokyo Cult Recipes | Matcha & White Chocolate Cake

On the weekend I shared my review of Maori Murota’s Tokyo Cult Recipes, published by Murdoch Books. Click through to read more and to enter my giveaway to win your own copy of the book.

This beautiful hard back cookery book features over 100 recipes loved by Tokyoites, covering breakfast, lunch, sweet snacks and dinner, both foods that are typically cooked at home as well as those most often eaten out in cafes, restaurants and izakaya (pubs).

When it comes to sweets, the Japanese embrace both wagashi (Japanese traditional sweets) and yougashi (Western-inspired cakes and pastries, often with a Japanese twist such as the addition of matcha or sesame). Pete and I visited many wonderful tea and coffee shops during our previous visits to Japan, often treating ourselves to a slice of beautiful freshly-baked cake alongside.

Tokyo Cult Recipes Matcha and White Chocolate Cake

Matcha & White Chocolate Cake

Recipe extracted with permission from Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota

Makes 1 loaf cake
15 mins preparation time
40 mins cooking time

Ingredients
3 eggs
softened butter – the same weight as the eggs
caster (superfine) sugar – the same weight as the eggs
plain (all-purpose) flour – the same weight as the eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon matcha (green tea powder)
70 g (2½ oz) white chocolate chips

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F), and butter and flour a 19 x 19 x 8 cm (7½ x 7½ x 3¼ in) loaf tin.
  • Weigh the eggs, then weigh out the same amount of butter, sugar and flour.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter together for 5 minutes, or until light and creamy.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each one in well before adding the next. Sift in the flour, baking powder and matcha.
  • Combine using a spatula. Stir through the white chocolate chips, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes.
  • The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Murdoch Books. Published by Murdoch Books, photography by Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle. Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota is currently available on Amazon for £13.60 (RRP £20).

Tokyo Cult Recipes | Sukiyaki (Japanese Beef Hotpot)

Yesterday I shared my review of Maori Murota’s Tokyo Cult Recipes, published by Murdoch Books. Click through to read more and to enter my giveaway to win your own copy of the book.

This beautiful hard back cookery book features over 100 recipes loved by Tokyoites, covering breakfast, lunch, sweet snacks and dinner, both foods that are typically cooked at home as well as those most often eaten out in cafes, restaurants and izakaya (pubs).

Sukiyaki is one of my favourite hotpots; I absolutely love the sweetness of the cooking broth – it gives such a lovely flavour to the meat, tofu, vegetables and mushrooms cooked in it.

Tokyo Cult Recipes Beef Hot Pot (Sukiyaki)

Sukiyaki (Japanese Beef Hotpot)

Recipe extracted with permission from Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota

Serves 4
15 mins preparation time
15 mins cooking time

Ingredients
1 packet shirataki* (about 400 g/14 oz)
1 pack shimeji mushrooms 1 leek (white part)
½ bunch shungiku* or rocket (arugula)
¼ Chinese cabbage
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) tofu
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) sliced beef
4 extra-fresh organic eggs
100–200 ml (3½–7 fl oz) dashi (see below for recipe)
2 packets pre-cooked udon noodles
Sukiyaki broth
100 ml (3½ fl oz) soy sauce
100 ml (3½ fl oz) sake
3 tablespoons raw sugar

Method

  • Rinse the shirataki well and drain. Cut into 3 lengths.
  • Wash the shimeji and roughly separate them. Cut the leek into 2 cm (¾ in) slices on the diagonal. Wash the shungiku, then cut across into 2 sections. Wash the Chinese cabbage and cut into 3 pieces. Cut the tofu into 3 cm (1¼ in) cubes.
  • Place half of the prepared ingredients in a pot, ideally side by side. (If necessary, use a frying pan that doesn’t leave too much space around the ingredients.) Pour over the sukiyaki broth, then cover and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add half of the beef.
  • Once the vegetables are cooked, bring the pot to the table on a burner. Break the eggs into individual bowls and lightly beat with chopsticks. Let guests serve themselves, dipping the different foods in the beaten egg in their bowl. Gradually add more foods to the pot as they run out and repeat the cooking process as you go, according to the appetites of your guests. If there is not enough liquid, add some dashi. Right at the end of cooking (when there are no more ingredients in the sauce), add the cooked udon noodles.

* Kavey Eats’ Notes on Sukiyaki Ingredients
Shirataki
noodles are thin vermicelli made from konnyaku, a type of yam also known as konjac. The translucent and gelatinous noodles are also popular in the West for their zero (or very low) calorie value. They also have no carbs or gluten, so are a good option for low-carb and low-gluten diets.
Shinguku are edible chrysanthemums which are widely eaten in Japan, especially during winter.

Dashi Recipe

40 mins preparation time – 17 mins cooking time

Ingredients and quantities
1 litre (35 fl oz/4 cups) water
10 g (¼ oz) kombu seaweed
10 g (¼ oz) katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

It is easy to remember the quantities of katsuobushi and kombu: 1% of the quantity of water.

Preparation

  • Soaking in water – Place the water in a saucepan. Cut the kombu into 2 pieces and add to the water, then leave to soak for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. You can do this the night before or a few hours ahead of time.
  • Cooking the dashi – Heat the water on a low heat until it just comes to a simmer, about 15 minutes. Don’t let it boil, or the seaweed flavour will be too strong. Take out the kombu just before the stock comes to the boil and add the katsuobushi all at once. Bring to the boil on a medium heat, then turn off the heat immediately. Let it infuse for 10 minutes.
  • Straining – Strain the dashi into a bowl. Let the dashi drip through, pressing lightly.

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Murdoch Books. Published by Murdoch Books, photography by Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle. Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota is currently available on Amazon for £13.60 (RRP £20).