A goldmine of produce, food culture and delicious sake and wine that Japan can be proud of. Nagano is not just for skiing.
In 1998, the Nagano Prefecture was bubbling with excitement for the Nagano Olympics and is now overflowing with famous tourist attractions and places, but surprisingly, not many know that the people of Nagano take pride in the quantity and quality of their farming produce, which rates very high in all of Japan. Grapes and apples are a given, however they also produce peaches, nectarines, blueberries, prunes, quinces, enoki mushrooms, celery, pickled greens, parsley, matsutake mushroom, paddy-grown wasabi, lettuce, eringi mushroom and shimeji mushrooms. There is an abundance of delicious natural produce being lovingly nurtured here. But did you know that the area is also renowned for making exquisite, high quality Japanese wine?
For someone like me who has lived outside of Japan for many years, every time I return, I am always most impressed by the deliciousness of Japan’s rice and water. While I love Australia, I regret to say that the water and rice just doesn’t taste the same. I would once again like to introduce more deliciousness that you can find in Nagano.
At “Fuchinobo” within the Shinshu Zenko Temple boasting a 1400-year history, I sampled some vegetarian cuisine sometimes known as “Lenten Fare” in English. This type of dish utilises no meat whatsoever, and is not simply a vegetarian dish. It is a dish that places importance on the “lives” of fruits and vegetables too, and therefore, you consume them sparingly. It is a deeply spiritual and cultural type of cuisine. I feel as though it is something that many Australians would be interested in, so I would like to continue to introduce this sort of culture in various articles to follow. (https://www.zenkoji.jp/) (http://www.fuchinobo.or.jp/syojin.html)
It’s pretty interesting that with this Lenten Fare, you were able to drink sake. I was quite surprised. However, it is not called “sake”. They call it “Hanyatou”, or in other words, “The Water of Wisdom”.
Most of the protein infused into these dishes comes from soybeans, the cuisine is seasonally produced locally and is always readily available.
This is Obuse’s chestnut rice. Due to the Matsukawa floods the acidified soil helps nurture large, good quality chestnuts. In the Edo Period, chestnuts were supposedly presented to Shogun (or generals). I tried this dish at the Sakura Kanseido, which was established 200 years ago. (http://www.kanseido.co.jp/)
Obuse is a great place to take a walk around and explore. You can take a look at the Katsushika Hokusai Art Museum and of course, the Obuse Winery is definitely a must visit. (http://www.obusewinery.com/)
At the Hachinoko Guest House, I was taught how to make Shinshu Soba. They use a rare traditional method, but substitute the wheat flour with “Oyama Touchwood” a type of plant that grows in the mountains. (http://www.info-yamanouchi.net/meal/item.php?spotid=391)
Homemade soba noodles are truly delicious. The harvested buckwheat is ground in a mortar and sifted, then add water accordingly and roll out and stretch the dough onto a bench with a rolling pin and finally after cutting it up with a kitchen knife, your noodles are done.
Yatawaya Isogoro’s “Shichimi Red Cayenne Pepper” is very famous. It’s a red cayenne pepper made with a blend of seven ingredients and is vital for every dinner table. With a focus on using ingredients sourced from within Nagano, Shichimi consists of a blend of cayenne peppers, sansho seasoning, ginger, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, dried citrus peel and perilla. These ingredients create a great balance and harmony or spice and fragrance and has a unique taste. (https://www.yawataya.co.jp/)
“Bukkomi” is the name given to the miso stew chock-full of vegetable that is eaten with udon. It works wonders to warm you up on a cold, snowy day.
Another thing to warm you up on a cold day would have to be Japanese wine. The Engi Brewery was established in 1805. I was informed that the secret to making their delicious sake is all due to the use of locally grown rice, locally sourced water, clean air and chilly temperatures. (http://www.tamamura-honten.co.jp/?pid=97647072)
What we call “Oyaki” is a type of food made by combining wheat flour or buckwheat flour with water, which is then kneaded and rolled out to become a thin, flat skin coating for azuki beans, vegetables or edible wild plants to be wrapped up in and then cooked. At a place called “Yakimochiya”, “oyaki” can be finished off by cooking in a pan over a naked flame with ash. They are packed full of ingredients and very delicious. (http://yakimochiya.jp/)
Especially because I have lived away from my home country, Japan for many years am I able to see that my home country is precious to me. On this trip to Nagano, I could look upon and thing about Japan with pride. It was truly the best experience.
Lastly, I’d like to sincerely thank Mr. Yoshimi from Nagano’s Tourism Organisation. He loves Nagano more than anyone I know and I could think of nothing better than to go on a trip to Nagano and be introduced to its beauty and wonder by someone like him. Thank you very much.
Original Article: Masahiko Iga
Photography: Hideaki Yoshimi
Translation: Jessica Waugh