Tazawako mountain harvest cafe
This is the story of a beach shack with no name, but with views many iconic restaurants would die for. Where else would you have azure waters and fine sandy beaches on one side and cherry blossoms with dramatic snow topped mountains that touch the heavens on the other side.
Actually this cafe does have a Japanese name, but it is in such small print that I had to walk around the building twice before finding it. Called Yama no Sachi, or which loosely means Mountain Harvest, it is a grand sounding name for a nondescript rectangular building. Inside, the 1980's simple beige decor and the white floral wallpaper ceilings all conspire to take me back to my childhood.
When I am travelling in Semboku I sometimes feel that my mum is following me. In towns big and small you can find simply furnished family eateries serving tried and trusted no fuss dishes for decades. And yes I don't have to clean up after my meal. This place is no exception.
Even simple dishes like curry rice is made lovingly with special touches. The tender thin slices of beef remind me of pork belly, succulent with chewy bits of fat. The onions and the sweet red pickles add contrast to the richness of the curry while the Akita komachi rice showcases the local produce. It is a bargain at 650 yen.
Their specialty is sansai or wild greens with set courses from 1350 yen, all presented simply on white plates. You may have read about some famous restaurants in Spain, France and Denmark like Noma, a Michelin Star restaurant run by chef Rene Redzepi, where they forage the forests for the freshest local herbs and ingredients. But here in Akita they have been doing it for ages. You can’t beat this alpine mountains and lakes location for its unique greens and herbs, such as watercress, wasabi, butterbur, mushrooms, bracken fern as well as bamboo shoots. It can be a bit of a treasure hunt to find some of these wild greens, with rugged terrain, thorny bush as well as the presence of wild bears in some areas, certainly give this produce a sense of adventure, if not danger. Some sansai is good for your health as well. Butterbur may be useful in helping people with migraines and tension headaches, while watercress is full of anti-oxidants as well as gluconasturtiin, giving it a peppery flavor.
Their other Akita speciality is Inaniwa Udon, a local handmade speciality which looks a bit like the noodles used in Vietnamese pho. However, instead of using flour to make the udon, they use potato starch instead to give it a flatter shape. Until the late nineteenth century, Inaniwa Udon was quite rare, being consumed mainly by the Imperial Household. Now, it is one of the three specialty noodles of Japan, the others being Sanuki udon and Shinshu soba. If you have come all the way to Akita, why not try some Inaniwa Udon?