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Food Fun-ventures in Eastern Japan: Part 2

Food Fun-ventures in Eastern Japan: Part 2

What’s visiting Japan without trying all the delicious local food? Now I am back with Part 2 of my fun food adventures in Eastern Japan (東日本 Higashi-nihon)! If you have not read Part 1, do check out the article where I shared about delicious food that you can enjoy in the Tohoku Region (東北地方 Tōhoku chihō). This time, I will be focusing on the food that I had in Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken) during my recent trip with my colleague Carissa in September 2022.

 

By way of introduction, Nagano Prefecture is a beautiful landlocked prefecture in the Chubu Region (中部地方 Chūbu-chihō) surrounded by tall mountains on all four directions. Nagano is also a treasure trove of natural hot springs, making it the king of onsen (温泉) and is even known for its world-class snow resorts of Hakuba (白馬), Shiga Kogen (志賀高原) and Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉) continue to attract winter sports enthusiasts every year. It even hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 1998! Now that you know a little more about this amazing prefecture, here is my list of five must-try delicacies from Nagano to add to your Japanese food list. 

 

1. Chestnut rice

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

The first item on our menu is chestnut rice (栗おこわ kuri-okowa) from the “chestnut kingdom” of Obuse Town (小布施町 Obuse-machi). This small historic town in northern Nagano is most well-known for its seasonal produce, especially the locally grown chestnuts. We stopped by at Chikufudo Obuse Honten (竹風堂小布施本店) and settled on a teishoku set (定食 Japanese set meal) for our lunch, which served chestnut rice instead of regular rice. The chestnut rice came out hot and fresh with lots of chestnuts, which made the rice taste sweet. It also came with various other simmered dishes such as Rainbow Trout (虹鱒 nijimasu) which was also very delicious.

 

They are very spiky, better be careful. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

As Obuse Town is also known as “chestnut town”, you may also chance upon these spiky green chestnuts in the trees if you visit between mid-September through November. Although it resembles a tropical rambutan fruit, the chestnut's outer shells are very sharp, and the green ones are unripe while the brown, ripened ones will fall onto the ground and split open. It was fun spotting them in trees but just be wary as some of these branches tend to hang low!

 

Chikufudo Obuse Honten (竹風堂)
Address: 973 Obuse-machi, Kamitakai, Nagano 381-0201
Nearest station: Obuse Station (小布施駅)
Access: 8-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 8am–6pm (retail), 10am–6pm (dine-in, last order at 5:30pm)
Tel: +81 26-247-2569

 

2. Seiro-mushi

So much food! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

Next on the menu is the Seiro-mushi (せいろ蒸し). Seiro-mushi is a dish that consists of seasonal vegetables, juicy Japanese meat and traditional delicacies steamed in a cypress steamer, served with savoury sauces. For this special dish, we visited Yayoiza (弥生座) which is located just before the gates to Zenkō-ji Temple (善光寺) and this establishment has been serving seiro-mushi for over 150 years. 

 

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

As this healthy dish uses seasonal vegetables, the dish may differ slightly between each visit. When my food came, I was so surprised by how big the portion was! Lucky for me, it was a cold, rainy day that day and this warm dish was just what I needed. I tried dipping the meat and vegetables in different sauces and it was all so delicious. I even surprised myself by gobbling up the meal in under 30 minutes.

 

Spot our names! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

Just before we left, we were introduced to this huge world map near the entrance of the shop. As this shop is frequented by many visitors from all over the world, the shopkeeper invited us to join in on the fun by including our names and date of visit on the map. If you do visit Yayoiza, be sure to include your name onto the map as well!

 

Yayoiza (弥生座)
Address: 503 Daimon-cho, Nagano-shi, Nagano 380-0841
Nearest station: Nagano Station (長野駅)
Access: 10-minute bus ride from the station
Opening hours: 11:30am–8:30pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Tel: +81 26-232-2311

 

3. Shinshu salmon

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

The third item on the menu is the Shinshu salmon (信州サーモン). As you may recall from the beginning of the article, Nagano Prefecture is a landlocked prefecture, so this salmon is specially cultivated in freshwater in the city of Azumino (安曇野市 Azumino-shi). Shinshu salmon’s rich, savoury flavour has been a hit among consumers, and I was so excited to dig into my dinner after a long day. 

 

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

There are plenty of places to enjoy Shinshu salmon, and I had mine at Nagano Choju Shokudo, located right by Nagano Station in MIDORI (みどり). This also came in a teishoku set. The generous slices of fish were delicate, fine and smooth, and most importantly, easy to eat! It felt as though it just melted in my mouth. My colleague Carissa even opted for the additional topping of having ikura (いくら salmon roe)—the more salmon, the merrier! Nagano Prefecture has one of the longest life expectancies in Japan, maybe the secret lies in the delicious food? Nagano Choju Shokudo also serve up other "healthy" food options that you should check out if you’re dropping by Nagano Station!

 

Nagano Choju Shokudo (長野長寿食堂)
Address: 1−22−6 MIDORI Nagano 3F, Minamichitose, Nagano 380-0824 
Nearest station: Nagano Station (長野駅)
Access: 1-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 11am–10pm
Tel: +81 262-23-5758

 

4. Matsutake set course

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

Next up is a must-try for all mushroom fans: matsutake (松茸) mushrooms! For this special feast, we made our way to Bessho Onsen (別所温泉), a small hot spring resort town just outside of central Ueda City (上田市 Ueda-shi). What makes matsutake mushrooms different from other mushrooms? It is Japan’s most expensive mushroom, and can only be foraged from the wild and not cultivated. 

 

Nagano is the top producer of matsutake (松茸) mushrooms in Japan, and the area around Ueda and Bessho Onsen particularly produces a lot of matsutake. Every autumn, the matsutake will be in season and that’s when you should visit the area and dine at a matsutake-specialty restaurant.

 

Adding freshly plucked mushrooms to my clay pot! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

I enjoyed my meal at Kinokomura Shinzan (きのこむら深山), where I ordered a set course which served a number of dishes with matsutake as its star ingredient. ​​The dishes that had matsutake mushrooms all had a unique flavour and deep aroma—just smelling them especially when they were grilled made my mouth water! 

 

Of course, the course also included a multitude of other mushrooms. One of the more unique experiences I got to try there was that I could pluck the mushrooms myself and add them into my own clay pot! It was a fun little activity to participate in while I was grilling and steaming the other mushrooms. 

 

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

At Kinokomura Shinzan, you can also go mushroom picking (きのこ狩り kinoko-gari) and check out how they make the perfect environment for growing a wide variety of mushrooms. They also offer tours around their facilities so be sure to check them out if you would like to enjoy a mushroom feast!

 

Kinokomura Shinzan (きのこむら深山)
Address: 710-2 Maeyama, Ueda-shi, Nagano 386-1436
Nearest station: Bessho Onsen Station (別所温泉駅)
Access: 10-minute drive from the station
Opening hours: 11:30am–2:30pm 
Tel: +81 268-38-7333

 

5. Sanzoku-yaki

 Look at that! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

The last item on the menu today is the Sanzoku-yaki (山賊焼き). The Sanzoku-yaki is a huge piece of deep-fried chicken thigh which is a local specialty of Nagano Prefecture, especially Matsumoto City (松本市 Matsumoto-shi). I enjoyed my meal on the train this time as we were rushing to catch the train back to our accommodation. The piece of chicken was so huge that it took up almost the entirety of the bento box and the lid had to be secured with an elastic band. The thick cuts of chicken were juicy and not dry but little did I know, there was a surprise awaiting me.

 

I’m so glad I didn't accidentally destroy it… (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

As we had picked up our bento from Matsumoto Karaage Center (松本からあげセンター), hidden under the pieces of chicken was a piece of seaweed featuring Nagano’s lovable mascot, Arukuma (アルクマ), and the historic Matsumoto Castle (松本城 Matsumoto-jō). It was a pleasant surprise discovering this little advertisement of the city as I was enjoying my dinner.

 

Matsumoto Karaage Center (松本からあげセンター)
Address: 1-1-1 Matsumoto MIDORI Building 4F, Nagano 390-0815 
Nearest station: Matsumoto Station (松本駅)
Access: 1-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 11:30am–7:30pm 
Tel: +81 263-87-2229

 

Honourable mention: Shinshu Beef

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

Now that I have completed the 5 must-tries from Nagano Prefecture, here is an honourable mention from Part 1 of the article: Shinshu Beef (信州和牛 Shinshū wagyū)​​! I can’t emphasise how delicious Shinshu beef is! The beef is special as the cows are fed Nagano—another speciality of the prefecture—which makes their meat sweet and tender.

 

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

During our recent trip, we were fortunate enough to have our dinner again at the renowned YAMASACHI (やまさち) located in HOTEL METROPOLITAN NAGANO. Once again the skilled chef didn’t disappoint and the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and subtle sweetness of the beef was irresistible. 

 

Teppan Grill YAMASACHI (鉄板焼「やまさち」)
Address: 1346 Minamiishi Dou-cho Hotel Metropolitan Nagano 2F, Nagano 380-0824, 
Nearest station: Nagano Station
Access: 3-minute walk from the station|
Opening hours: 11:30 am–2:30 pm (Last order: 2pm), 5:30pm–9:30pm (Last order: 9pm)
Tel: +81-26-291-7000

 

Bonus: Toge no Kamameshi

Filled the brim with delicious goodies! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

In addition to the above honourable mention, I also have another food that I’d like to give a shout out to! For this last entry, we headed to Yokokawa Station (横川駅 Yokokawa-eki) in Gunma Prefecture (群馬県 Gunma-ken). You might be wondering, “Gunma isn’t part of Nagano!”. Well, this all still ties back to Nagano as in the past, before the opening of the Nagano Shinkansen (now Hokuriku Shinkansen), trains would transit here at Yokokawa Station before they continued their arduous uphill journeys towards Karuizawa (軽井沢) via the Usui Pass (碓氷峠 Usuitо̄ge). 

 

After a long hike on the Abt Road (アプトの道 Aputo-no-Michi) and Usui Pass, Carissa and I eagerly made our way to Oginoya (荻野屋) to grab our late lunch. The Toge no Kamameshi ekiben came in a clay pot and it was filled with lots of goodies such as marinated chicken, seasonal vegetables such as chestnut, burdock roots, and a piece of sweet apricot. The best part about this is that I could bring the earthenware pot back home as a souvenir! 

 

I’ll try them during my next visit. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)

 

As we got there late afternoon, the other flavours which were also sold at Oginoya were sold out. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the original Toge no Kamameshi very much! After enjoying our meal, there was also plenty to look at in Oginoya. Various Gunma-related souvenirs were sold, and they even had a little Oginoya gachapon machine that dispenses six different types of miniature Oginoya ekiben capsule toys. Definitely worth the visit here!

 

Oginoya Yokokawa Shop (荻野屋 横川店)
Address: 297-1 Yokokawa, Matsuida-machi, Annaka-shi, Gunma 379301
Nearest station: Yokokawa Station (横川駅)
Access: 5-minute walk from the station
Opening hours: 9am­–5pm
Tel: +81 27-395-2431

 

This concludes the end of my two-part series of Food Fun-ventures in Eastern Japan! I know this has been a long read but I hope that at the end of it all, you found something you would like to add to your food bucket list during your trip to the Tohoku Region and Nagano Prefecture!

 

Header image credit: JR East / Julia Yee

 

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