Monday, October 19, 2009

A Wonderful Weekend in Nikko

Our dear friends Fran and Kaz have a lovely weekend retreat in Nikko, about 100 miles north of Tokyo, on the grounds of Rinoji Temple, one of the main temples of this ancient town. I visited last weekend, in time for the Autumn Grand Festival of the Toshogu Shrine, a procession that has been conducted twice a year for more than 300 years in pretty much the same fashion. In addition to this picturesque event, I was treated to some extraordinary meals, an open-air bath in a hot spring and even a round of golf at the Nikko Country Club.

Procession at Toshogu Shrine

The first wonderful meal was at a local soba place. The owners, former school teachers, decided to open Soba Gen, a traditional soba restaurant, where they make the noodles from buckwheat flour, white flour or a combination. The noodles are hand cut several times a day, which is typical for a really good soba place. What is special here is that they buy the grains in bulk and grind them into flour at the restaurant. We had cold buckwheat-only soba with tororo (grated yam) added to the broth, and maitake mushroom tempura, since maitake are now in season. Delicious!

For dinner we went to Gyoshintei, a kaiseki restaurant on the temple grounds. Kaiseki meals are about creative use of seasonal ingredients, mostly vegetables, and a variety of cooking techniques -- boiled, steamed, grilled, fried and raw -- beautifully presented in a variety of hand-made vessels. Gyoshintei did not disappoint; the food was delicious and eminently edible, without many of the difficult textures found in the most sophisticated Kyoto kaiseki cuisine. And beautifully presented in a manner that reflected the autumn season.

We started with an appetizer consisting of nama yuba (raw tofu skin), gomma dofu (sesame "tofu") and boiled maitake mushrooms.

Next up was a plate consisting of raw fugu (blowfish), chicken steamed in sake, steamed eggplant, burdock root and green potato. This was followed by dobi mushi, a broth with vegetables, including ginko nuts, that is infused with fragrant slices of the precious seasonal matsutake mushroom. You drink the broth from a small cut and eat the vegetables from the little teapot.

The meal continued with kampachi (yellowtail) cut and lightly pickled to imitate takuan (pickled radish), and cooked yuba in broth.

Then grilled shrimp with scallops and chrysanthemum shaped radish in a chrysanthemum petal soup.

Next were fried oysters wrapped in shiso leaves, with fried maitake-like mushrooms, rice with chestnuts, pickles and dark miso soup and, finally, bakes apple served with kibi (a soft sugary substance) covered by kudzu mochi.

And all this with copious amounts of sake -- three different ones from Tochigi Prefecture, where Nikko is located.


Bobby Jay

1 comment:

Ordinary Servant said...

My mouth is watering... deliciously delightful!