Day 1: On the Road to Yudanaka Onsen (長野の名産を食べる旅：第一日)
On our second day in Nagano, we headed to Yamanouchi to see the snow monkeys at the Jigokudani Monkey Park. We kind of took the long way around, but eventually we got on the right path.
The roads from Yudanaka Onsen to the park are lined with ryokan and sweets shops. This one had a window cat!
More Bread Revolution and Guide to Flour.
One of the biggest challenges–and triumphs– for me during these 2.5 years living in Japan has been creating bread products I could easily purchase back in the US: pitas, tortillas, flatbread, pizza dough. I experimented (usually disastrously) with a few things in year 1, namely pizza dough, which was passable but not fantastic, and tea bread, which refused to cook through no matter how I reduced the recipe or what device in which I baked it.
Flour tortillas for a cooking lesson
My first success was whole-wheat soda bread. Pizza dough took two years and five different recipes. Tortillas and pitas, which I was stupidly convinced couldn’t be made at home until Cheruko of Hokuriku Expat Kitchen decided they could, turned out to be incredibly simple. I, like many Americans, thought bread-making was some sort of epic process, a choice between hours of kneading and rising and punching dough or investing in a breadmaker that would take up precious storage space. It’s really not that bad. I’ll speak more on this later with each recipe’s time-commitment information, but I full work-time, work out, have an active social life and hobbies, and I still have time for bread-making. The rising time, depending on the recipe, is often ideal for cooking the rest of a meal, enjoying a TV show or book, or even an evening trip to the gym for the longer risers.
So, now that you’re less worried about OMG BREAD, let’s get started on building your expat bread factory. First, we need to have a chat about types of flour. If you’ve never baked in Japan, you might be surprised to know that flours that are not all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour is what we Americans use in damn near everything (unless you are a pastry shop or gluten-intolerant)–and isn’t as easily found in Japan as cake or bread flour. The contents of this article have been cross-posted to resources.
3. Soba Noodles Made with Lotus-Root
もちもちつるつる (mochi-mochi tsuru-tsuru): springy and smooth (texture)
(usually used separately, but the ad for the noodles uses both in combination)
Looking back on all the places I’ve lived, the two things that make me happiest about a residence are farmers’ markets and quaint historic districts with locally run businesses. I first discovered this back in university, when I stayed in Denver for an internship one summer. Nearly every Sunday, I would head down to the Old South Pearl Street Farmers’ Market to buy bread and homemade pasta. My then-boyfriend, now-spouse and I were particularly intrigued by Pasta More’s sweet potato fettuccine, which we affectionately referred to as “weird pasta” for the duration of the summer because it was so out of the realm of our student diets. (I highly recommend it–it’s delicious!)
Japan is less of a “pasta” country, but soba, udon, and ramen are staples here. When I was in Iwakuni, my friend and I stopped in an omiyage shop to see about getting some Iwakuni renkon (lotus root) products, as renkon is the local specialty.
名物料理 (meibutsu ryouri): local specialty
Nagano is delicious!
長野に、何をした？善光寺？ <What’d ya do in Nagano? Go to Zenkôji?>
はい、それと地獄谷の猿に見に行きました。 <Yes, and I also went to see the monkeys at Jigokudani.>
温泉に入るさるやね。ああ、長野に、何を食べた？<The onsen monkeys, right? Oh, what’d you eat there?>
そうですね。。。そばとそば茶とそばまんじゅうとリンゴ。。。<Let’s see–soba, soba manjû, soba tea, shichimi, apples…>
おやきは？ <Did you try oyaki?>
Oyaki--Like a savory manjû.
Regional and seasonal food in Japan is Serious Business.™ When I go on trips, I try to make a point of eating the regional specialties. Nagano is famous for a lot of delicious things. I bought the most delicious and cheapest of apples I’ve had in Japan at a stand with a cash box outside Zenkôji in Nagano City–4 for 200 yen! I discovered that Nagano actually has apricots, which are scanty and expensive in my region. I tried the regional Kit Kat flavors: shichimi, “seven-spice,” and apple.
Nagano is also famous for Shinshuu soba (信州, the name of the former province to which Nagano belonged). In addition to soba noodles, there’s soba ice cream, Western pasta made with soba, and soba tea. I had some lovely soba manjû, a sweet with a buckwheat-noodle-based “skin” around sweet red-bean paste, and oyaki, which is like a manjû but made with soba. I had savory vegetable and kabocha oyaki as well as a sweet apple one.