A serene and cool slice of Japanese cuisine2022.01.14
Japan has gained worldwide recognition for the endless high quality dishes to be found. Not only are the traditional "washoku" menus lauded by critics, but Japanese adaptations and imitations of foreign foods like Italian and French varieties have also been rated as some of the best in the world. It doesn't stop there either, as the modern adaptations of Japanese foods like ramen and beef-based dishes are favorites of travelers and residents as well.
Firstly, sushi. It's the iconic food that arguably put Japanese cuisine on the radar of so many travelers. The components of sushi are few, and this makes each one critical to getting that perfect bite each time. "Sekai-zushi" is a name known across Niigata where things just come together perfectly; expertly cut fish, perfect rice, and the freshest local veggies. Tucked away in an odler shopping district of Niigata, softly lit, quiet and away from the bustle of fast food and hotels around the station, it embodies the serenity I came to associate with Niigata cuisine.
The locally caught fish and nationally revered "Koshi-hikari" rice made up the chef's special plate called "Kiwami", and each bite was a relaxing yet vibrant journey of flavor. "Nodoguro" (blackthroat seapearch) is a favorite in this northern area of Japan, and was perhaps my favorite of the selection. They say the rice reflects a chef's skill as much as the slices of fish, and it was very apparent here. Holding the sushi between chopsticks (for about 5 straight minutes trying to take a good picture!) didn't seem to compromise the integrity of the sushi, as the kernels of rice were firm, glistening with moisture, with not a single weak link to be found.
The end-product is what most people focus on in cuisine, but the trip the ingredients made to your plate can be equally as intriguing. Niigata has some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan, and people in the old days made use of this when it came to cooking.
"Yukimuro" is the Japanese practice of using snow to preserve things almost year-round. Traditionally, villagers built dense igloos in the shade of mountains, packed with layers and layers of snow. A thick roof of bamboo, reeds, and straw was built then around it to keep the snow as insulated as possible. Nowadays, despite having adequate refrigeration, the practice is kept alive, although in a slightly different form.
Hakkaisan, a famous sake brewery from Niigata, shovels a huge pile of snow into their sake storehouse each winter, eliminating the need for electric refrigeration. They also store vegetables, fruit preserves, and other things like cured meats here, all available at their shop .
Uonuma no Sato is Hakkaisan's own "sake getaway" for tourists. Cafes, restaurants, the brewery itself, the Yukimuro storehouse, tasting area, and shop are made with a harmony of modern and traditional architecture, and surrounded by exquisite nature. The ingredients and techniques all align for some of the best tasting sake in Japan, and they were quite generous with tasting allowances.
Uonuma Cuisine Restaurant Murangozzo
Sushi is tried and true, and a glass of sake with some crisp pickled veggies is a tasty yet simple indulgence. Japan balances well its efforts to leave certain, traditional pleasures untouched, but push the boundaries of complexity and creativity in other areas. We present Murangozzo, a restaurant adjoined to the famous the Hatago Isen Japanese inn outside of Echigo Yuzawa Station.
The concept at the hotel is to get you in touch with Niigata's treasures, and naturally, this includes the local ingredients to be found. Murangozzo leans toward the french side of cuisine, bringing together Niigata ingredients in the "Snow Country Gastronomy Full Course", which has ten separate dishes.
You'll be taken through the full spectrum of Niigata's foods, starting with delectable vegetable arrangements, locally caught fish, and finishing off with top-ranked "wagyu " beef also raised here in Niigata. Each dish was carefully crafted to both capture the serene, gentle nature of Niigata's traditional cuisine, but also experimental enough to leave you feeling it was a once in a lifetime flavor experience.
Whether it's with fish, sake, or just the sheer quality of the steamed white rice here, there are bound to be many flavors Niigata will treat you to.