Friday, June 15, 2018

A Few More Food Stops

We made a few food stops in Wakayama on our last day of the journey as we made our way back to the airport for the late evening flight home. After the morning hike along the Kumano Kodo trail, we picked up our car and headed west on Route 311, another scenic driving route through the forests, rivers and tunnels. Along the way, we made a stop at a roadside restaurant called Kawayoshi near Tanabe.

This casual shokudo-style restaurant serves only one item on the menu – unagi, or freshwater eel. One could choose the Unaju course in various sizes, which was served in a lacquer box with rice underneath, or just the grilled eel prepared in Kabayaki or Shioyaki style (with the basting sauce or with salt). The eels were grilled to order at the open kitchen behind the counter, using Kishu Bincho charcoal, another famous product from the region. My large size Unaju came with a whole eel neatly laid in the red lacquer box on a bed of rice, perfectly grilled with the slightly charred skin and lots of smokiness as it arrived. On the side was a simple plate of pickles and the clear broth with the eel liver. Not often could we get hold of good quality unagi back home, so I thought this delicious lunch will get us off the crave for it for a while until we returned to Japan next time.

When? March 25 2018
Where? Kawayoshi, 1946-4 Ichinose, Kamitonda-cho, Nishimuro-gun, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan
川よし 和歌山県西牟婁郡上富田町市ノ瀬1946-4
Menu Highlights? Unaju

Route 311 led us back to Shirahama where we stayed earlier and from there, with a 30 minute ride on the expressway we arrived in a small town called Yuasa. The place was said to be the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce, with some Buddhist monks carrying the recipe back from China in the 13th Century and brewed its own at the temple near Yuasa. I think this National Geographic documentary said it best of how soy sauce was made in this old town:

In the town there were a few soy sauce makers offering factory tour and shops for tourists and we dropped by one of them called Yuasa Shoyu, which is probably one of the biggest. Looking beyond the set up which looks like a Disneyland-type tour finishing with the souvenir shop and café at the end, the tour was actually very informative, covering the traditional fermentation and aging processes, with all the tools and equipment in neat display, and then we were given the opportunity for tasting of various soy sauce products, differentiated by grades, manufacturing process and tastes. Soy sauce is actually a by-product of Kinzanji Miso, which was different than the miso paste we often saw, with mixture of koji culture made with whole grains and soy beans and vegetables and went through a shorter fermentation process. (whereas regular miso was aged longer and made with only fermented soy beans mashed into paste) While the liquid from the fermentation of Kinzanji Miso became soy sauce, the remaining part was perfect condiments for cooking, or for salad, or simply as topping for a bowl of rice. We have never seen or tried Kinzanji Miso before but we were happy to carry some back home – now we just need to think of a good way to use them in the kitchen.

When? March 25 2018
Where? 湯浅醤油 和歌山県有田郡湯浅町湯浅1464
Yuasa Shoyu, 1466-1 Yuasa, Arida-gun, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

After Yuasa, we made a slight detour on local thoroughfares along the coastline instead of hopping back to the toll expressway to stop by a café in the middle of nowhere. Rub luck café looks nothing like a proper place to eat and drink but we had a great time for a lazy afternoon visiting while enjoying a simple cup of coffee and cake. From outside the place looks like an abandoned warehouse at the foot of a hill and facing the ocean and there’s no sign or whatsoever – only the packed car park outside with visitors streaming in and out hinted at something’s going on inside the building. And the interior was fascinating – one corner on the ground floor looks like someone’s atelier for woodwork completed with benches and tools and chunks of unfinished wood; on the side behind the wooden wall was the counter and kitchen which reminded me of a chalet, and at further end there’s a small waiting area with tables and chairs and a shelf filled with books.

Despite its remote location we had to wait for a good 20 minutes before they could take our order and seated us upstairs at the dining area on the 2nd floor. It took up as much space as the ground floor but with only a handful of wooden furniture and couches – that’s minimalism to the max. The café only opens on weekends and holidays (from 11am to sunset, according to the little sign at the door) with savory food, desserts and drinks on the menu written on a blackboard outside the kitchen. Our cakes (pumpkin cheesecake and a baked chocolate cake) held up to the usual high standard of Japanese café sweets, but it’s not entirely about the food and drink that we loved – it’s the ambiance and the time we treasure of sitting back, doing nothing and watching time goes by with the echo of smooth jazz tunes coming from a giant speaker made of natural wood that’s hanging in the middle of the dining room.

When? March 25 2018
Where? rub luck cafe, 1470-2 Chida, Arida, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

(Part of the Wakayama Travel Series)

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