Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Best Of Takayama, Japan - On the Trail of Food and Markets

Takayama is a foodies' paradise. A compact town, the main sights of the old town are located within walking distance, which is a good thing as we really appreciated the walk to set-off our non-stop eating.

We started off the day with a visit to the Miyagawa morning market. This small market which caters to both the locals and visitors is located by the river with a row of shops on 1 side and make-shift stalls on the other side.

At one of the shops, we bought some Hida beef bun for breakfast - hot, steamed fluffy bun with minced beef filling. It was delicious. The bun was incredibly soft, and the beef, succulent. The Hida beef bun rivals the best char siu pau (barbeque pork bun) in Hong Kong.

For dessert, I tried a Sukune Kabocha pudding, a pumpkin pudding topped with a rich brown sugar syrup. It had a smooth velvety texture and was full of flavour. Yum!

Energized after a delicous breakfast, we wandered around the shops, sampling the various local offerings from the Hida district region. We came away with black bean tea, Hida beef granules and wasabi granules (both are wonderful condiments to add to cooking).

We also did some people-watching...

Next, we headed to Sanmachi Suji, the centre of the old Takayama. The three main streets - Ichi-no-Machi, Ni-no-Machi and San-no-Machi are lined with aged-dark wood traditional buildings which houses shops, sake breweries and museums. It really is quite pleasant wandering in and out of the various shops, admiring the traditional wares, sampling some sake and local food.

The exterior shop front of a sake brewery

The sake brewery at the back of the shop

Pretty sake bottles on display

A pleasant discovery - a serene indoor garden located within a souvenier shop.

Not surprisingly, we walked away with bags of Takayama goodies, ranging from Propolis essence to doggie figurines!

Later that day, we had one of our best meals of our Japan trip at Maruaki Restaurant (look out for the large cow display at the front of the shop). We splurged on a Hida beef lunch (knowing that we won't have an opportunity to taste such high quality beef for a long, long while. In any case, most restaurants have cheaper lunch sets, so if you want to enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant, it's best to eat during lunch).

We ordered the grill beef set - check out the lovely marbling on the beef.

We also tried the Sukiyaki beef set. Seeing our puzzled faces, the waitress showed us how to cook the Sukiyaki. First, she took the huge chunk of pork lard to season the shallow iron pot. She then took out the lard, poured some sauce (soy sauce, sugar and mirin) and gestured to us to start cooking the meat and vegetables. She then cracked the raw eggs into a small bowl and made dipping gestures to tell us to dip the cooked food into the raw egg before eating. It was amazing that despite the language barriers, the waitress was able communicate to us the right way to eat sukiyaki.

The Maruaki Restaurant in Takayama gets a double thumbs up!

After such a heavy meaty lunch, for dinner we opted for a simple roast pork ramen noodle at what I would call the "Red Dragon" Restaurant since I couldn't read the Japanese sign. Fortunately, they had an English menu with pictures so we had no issues ordering our meal.

This simple but delicious noodle dish was just what we needed to finish off our trail of food and markets at Takayama.