You only have to take a stroll down Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street to see just how passionate these locals are about their food. You wont find a Mos Burger or a Mcdonalds on these streets. These locals are dedicated to old, traditional, family recipes, handmade goods, a modest, yet exquisite dining experience. Welcome to the gourmet in Karuizawa.
Unique snacks and sweets down Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street
You’re spoiled for choice down Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street. Not only are there are vast number of interesting snacks and sweets to munch upon, but the food there also holds a history; bonding cultures and culinary perfection like never before. Aside from the pudding flavoured dorayaki (similar to two small pancakes sandwiching a deliciously smooth filling), vibrantly green Wasabi buns, curry pan (similar to a deep fried savory doughnut filled with deliciously warm curry), ice creams and senbei (Japanese rice crackers), perhaps the most prominent food on the streets are the homemade jams, using recipes handed down from westerners that used to occupy these streets in the 1,900s. Sample the jams in stores up and down Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street and you’re sure to find a delicious tartness that’s reminiscent of home.
While Kyukaruizawa Ginzadori Street is an impressive and creative blend of both Japanese and western cultures, this is but a mere snacking street. Travel a little further afield and you will find some local, hearty, homemade meals that have been in the family for generations.
Kagimotoya: The family owned Soba shop
I can see why people are prepared to line up and wait to eat at this restaurant. It is simply incredibly fresh, hearty food prepared by the people that know best.
I went for the Momiji set, containing all the flavours of Autumn. As I took a seat, I was given a nice warm cup of Japanese tea to warm my hands and a small bowl of pickled goods to chew on while I waited. Next to me, was a clear window giving me a view of a man making soba noodles from what seemed to me like a ball of clay. I watched him as he transformed it into a large pancake using a large wooden stick, throwing around flour before finally slicing it into noodles. This was not only a really interesting process to watch, but it’s also testament to just how fresh your meal will be. With further investigation, I could see someone in the kitchen dipping vegetables into rich batter and frying them second before plating them and sending them to the tables. It would be tough to find a meal much fresher than this. And, while you do have to wait for a meal this spectacular, is it a meal worth waiting for.
The Momiji Set
When it came, I was greeted with some soba dipping sauce and extra dipping sauce if I wanted it, a basket of tempura, miso soup (called Kenchin Jiru) and of course, the soba. The soba was the biggest surprise for me as, not only was it probably the freshest I’ve ever had, it also had dry seaweed sprinkled on top. I’m not too keen on seaweed, but these small flakes of crispy saltiness enhanced the flavor so much, I’m considering trying it at home. When you finish your noodles, there’s an extra pot of steaming liquid you can pour into your soba dipping sauce to create a nice soup to finish your meal with (if you have any room left). And, if all this food wasn’t enough, I was given a small bag of deep fried soba as a snack for later. It really was the most perfect meal, and at ￥1,750, I think it’s well worth it.
Sonmin- Shokudo (Hoshino Group)
If you hail from Japan, or have been here before, you might recognize the Hoshino group for their fancy cafes, featuring elaborate soufle pancakes. Well, the fanciness doesn’t stop there. Sonmin-Shokudo harnesses great local food and local craft beer to create a beautifully relaxing experience.
While the food was, of course, exquisite, the staff were what really caught my eye. Dressed finely, and incredibly attentive, these staff were among the best I’ve ever seen, ready and waiting to serve you without the need for yelling ‘sumimasen’ across the room. The atmosphere was great, the menu was vast and you could tell the food was of a high quality. Top this off with an extensive list (or rather book) of wines, craft beers and cocktails with a variety of backgrounds, and you could easily spend a comfortable few hours here. This is relaxed dining at its finest.
As an added bonus, there’s an onsen just next door to the restaurant. Visit the beautifully relaxing outdoor baths, sauna and indoor baths before your meal for a beautifully relaxing evening.