After Tokyo, our next stop was Takayama. Takayama is a small city located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, west of Tokyo. Takayama was very isolated until about 50 years ago and has retained a traditional touch and well preserved old town. It is really very pretty.
In Takayama, we stayed at a ryokan (traditional inn) and included in our stay were two dinners, and two breakfasts. I’m going to spilt this post into two, as there are a lot of photos and details. Plus, as you’ll see, the meals were pretty amazing!
One of the highlights about staying at a ryokan is kaiseki dining, a traditional, multi-course dinner. A kaiseki dinner can consist from 6 to 15 different kinds of food, and the food served changes according to the seasons and the area that the ryokan is located in. The design and display of the food is very important, as is the tableware, which is chosen to enhance the appearance of the food as well as the seasonal theme. We visited in early autumn.
We arrived at the ryokan in the late afternoon and after checking in and a quick walk around the town, it was soon time for dinner. I had no idea what to expect of the dinners, and was pleasantly surprised when we walked into ryokan’s dining room. It was a large room with tatami mats, and individual tables set out for each guest. The tables already had some food laid out, but during the meal more courses were brought out to us. So many, in fact, that we had trouble fitting them all on the table!
Right, I’ll get into it. Settle in, this will be a long one!
Underneath the house shaped cover above, were two layers of food.
The top layer held three items. At the front was tempura – soybeans, corn, and a leaf rolled around a meat filling. At the back we had angler fish liver and on the right was a mochi topped with sweet miso. I saved the mochi for last (dessert!). It was sweet and salty at the same time with the mochi having that lovely soft chewiness.
I didn’t know what this was at first – it’s angler fish liver. It has a rich fattiness, with the texture similar to a firm pate. It’s apparently a delicacy, and I really enjoyed it.
Underneath the tempura and angler fish liver, sat a tray of soba noodle sushi.
Also on the table, under the green leaf shaped cover, was Hilda beef with miso. It was cooked on a little burner that was lit at the beginning of the meal.
There were alternating layers of beef and pumpkin that cooked away while we ate other items. The beef was tender and delicious.
This little dish was eel with ginger. It was slightly pickled (the ginger?) so there was a bit of tanginess to it.
There was a little glass of plum wine (although apparently the fruit is closer to an apricot). It was a very sweet liqueur.
More Hilda beef – this one was topped with shabu shabu sauce. I loved the nuttiness of the sauce. I thought we were done at this stage, but no, the little old lady serving us kept bringing out food!
This was a taro dumpling sitting in a broth with mushrooms, chrysanthemum, ginger and dried citrus fruit rind. This was very fragrant with the citrus, and the taro dumpling had that soft, almost sticky taro texture (which I personally love about taro).
Everyone loved this one – tempura prawn covered with shredded potato. It was like a chip covered prawn. What a genius idea!
Beautifully presented tuna and seabass sashimi. The sashimi wasn’t as good at the sashimi we had at the Tsukiji fish market but it was still pretty good!
There was a salty clear soup, inside of which was a bonito fish ball.
Tea, rice and pickles, natch. I ate the pickles before I took this photo – whoops!
And last but not least, t
here was some poached nashi and kiwi fruit.
As you can see, everything was beautifully presented and ohmy it was delicious. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had….. until the following night, that is!
Breakfast the next day was another great meal. Fortunately for our stomachs, it wasn’t as large as dinner!
Part of breakfast was hoba miso, which was cooked on top of the little burner at our tables. Hoba miso is a version of miso where sweet miso is grilled on a hoba (magnolia) leaf and served as a dip or for eating with rice as is. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s really tasty as the heat caramelises the miso and you end up with a soft, salty-sweet paste.
In this box we had cooked spinach like vegetables with shabu shabu sauce on the left. In the middle looks like vegetables with gingko nuts, and on the right is tamago (egg). In the middle of the box was a little umeboshi – a pickled plum that was very salty and sour.
At the back left was a little piece of grilled salmon.
And at the back on the right were a few different types of tofu. One was a preserved spongey tofu. The tofu soaked up so much liquid, that when I bit into it, liquid came sloshing out.
There was a wonderful steamed savoury egg custard – chawanmushi – at the bottom of which sat a prawn and gingko nuts. It was the best steamed egg custard I’ve ever had, with the silkiest, smoothest texture.
There was miso soup, with fu (wheat gluten). Fu is soft and spongey and doesn’t have much flavour on its own but soaks up the flavour of whatever its in. After this, we kept seeing fu everywhere, to the point where if I didn’t know what something was, I just assumed it was fu!
Naturally, there was also rice and pickles, as well as some fruit to finish off.
Phew! I feel full just looking at those pictures. But coming up is part 2, where we had another amazing dinner and breakfast! To be continued…
Gifu-ken 506-0008, Japan