What to Eat in Hakone: The Onsen Getaway Town
The onsen town of Hakone is spread across spring-filled mountains around the foot of Mount Fuji. Hakone is one the most famous onsen hot spring towns in Japan, and is the perfect weekend destination from Tokyo, as it’s less than two hours away by train. A beautiful town where art meets natural beauty, you can surround yourself with breathtaking nature in Hakone, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Made up of picturesque forests as a part of the Fuji-Izu-Hakone National Park area, the scenery in Hakone changes elegantly with the seasons with wonderful landscapes throughout the year. Naturally, the seasons also see a change in the local specialties on offer, and indulging in local food is essential to any getaway. If you’re wondering what to eat in Hakone between onsen-hopping, this is your guide to all the essential foods in Hakone you should get into your post-onsen belly.
Other than its abundance of free-flowing onsens across numerous ryokan inns and hotels throughout the area, there are so many activities to do and sights to see in Hakone. There’s the sulfur bubbling at “The Great Boiling Valley” Owakudani, a pirate ship ride across Lake Ashi, hiking trails, and surprisingly it’s got one of Japan’s biggest outlet malls in the area at Gotemba, too. Throughout the years, art museums have popped up throughout the area, and many of them have since become world-class institutions. You can get a healthy dose of culture in between communing with nature, so you’ll definitely feel blissful on a relaxing trip to Hakone. Between bathing and exploring, Hakone has a number of specialty dishes and locally-made produce to fill you up on your travels.
1. Kuro-Tamago (Black Eggs)
Kuro-tamago should be the first thing on your Hakone food bucket list to tick off. These black eggs are famously boiled in water from the hot springs of Owakudani, the geothermal valley at the top of Hakone. The eggs are hard-boiled in natural 80 degree sulfur water, and turn black in reaction to the minerals that the water contains. According to legend, each egg is said to extend your life by an extra 7 years. Get cracking and eat black eggs in Hakone for that extra long life! Plus, you can also eat other black egg themed omiyage souvenirs from the Owakudani area.
Kamaboko are a type of fish cake made from processed fish paste. They’re an incredibly popular food in Japan, however they are commonly eaten in Hakone specifically, as kamaboko are made from produce coming in from Odawara and Numazu, nearby. Suzuhiro Kamaboko, in fact, has a museum in Hakone where you can see all kinds of kamaboko and learn how they’re made. Throughout Hakone you can get all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors of kamaboko, like gobo (burdock root) flavor and kamaboko with tako (octopus) inside. In slices as an appetizer, or on sticks as a snack on-the-go, you have to eat kamaboko when in Hakone! The deep-fried golden brown ones, called surimi-dango, are mouth-watering, yet not nearly as attractive and refined as normal kamaboko. Some souvenir shops in Hakone will have free samples too, and some fun types of kamaboko to take home and use in a bento box lunch later on.
3. Wakasagi (Pond Smelt)
Caught in the glorious waters of central Lake Ashi, wakasagi pond smelt fishes (sounds appetizing, right?) are a delicacy in Hakone, particularly at restaurants located by the water. Deep-frying these little guys in a panko-crumb coating makes for a delicious local dish, or else have them soft boiled. Tasty and fresh, wakasagi make a good teishoku lunch set to break up the day of exploring, or after a boat ride across Lake Ashi. They’re extra tasty with a sweet soy sauce and rice on the side. It’s worth mentioning that other seafood and fish served in Hakone is also fresh and of exceptional quality. Sourced from the Sagami Bay and brought in to Hakone via Odawara, seafood, sashimi and sushi in Hakone is absolutely delicious.
4. Tofu & Yuba
Famous for its healthiness, handmade tofu is a local delicacy in Hakone. Tofu is of course a huge part of the Japanese diet, and very versatile. Hakone tofu is made from hot spring waters, making the tofu nutritious, with a delicate flavor. The restaurant Tamura Ginkatsutei is a famous traditional Japanese restaurant that brings the crowds for its delicious hand-crafted tofu and nostalgic architecture and atmosphere. The special dish here is made by boiling and deep-frying the tofu, a healthier alternative to the more common tonkatsu (crunchy deep-fried pork cutlet), which, for the record, Ginkatsutei also sells. A kind of smooth-textured tofu skin named yuba, skimmed off as a part of the tofu-making process, is another delicacy made from the clear waters of Hakone.
Soba noodles are made throughout Japan, however, the soba from Hakone is particularly delicious. Hakone soba is famous for being made from crystal-clear local waters for fresh, delicious noodles using buckwheat flour. Zarusoba (cold soba) is refreshing in summer, but soba can also eaten hot in a soup during colder weather. Local yamaimo, Japanese yam grown in the mountainous surrounds of Hakone, is perfect to top off your soba dish, particularly when grated until fragrant, with a unique gooey texture (yama-kake). Yamaimo from Hakone is said to be good for you, promoting the healing and growth of healthy tissues. For the next level up, handmade soba with a side of mountain vegetable tempura makes for an absolutely delightful meal in Hakone, sold widely throughout the area.
6. Onsen Manju & Casella-Yaki
Surely by now, you’re wondering about what to eat in Hakone for dessert? Tied for first place, we have Hakone’s onsen manju and castella-yaki (kasutera-yaki). A manju is typically a soft, sweet steamed bun with red bean paste inside, but an onsen manju is steamed in the Hakone’s hot spring water. Another treat is a little round castella-yaki, where a manju meets a sponge cake, stamped with “Hakone” and an onsen symbol. Made from Odawara eggs and white bean paste from Hokkaido beans, they’re a delicious snack. Made locally in the Hakone-Yumoto shopping area at the mouth of Hakone, you can smell these little castella cakes cooking from way down the street. Both make for a good afternoon snack with matcha green tea or for dessert. While you’re munching, check out all of the local pickles and curious dried fish products in the Hakone Yumoto shopping area.
7. Onsen Stew Bread
Alongside many Western-style restaurants throughout Hakone, there are a number of quaint bakeries dotted around Hakone as well. Watanabe Bakery is one of Hakone’s oldest, selling pan (bread) since 1891. Their most famous dish is the onsen shishu pan or “onsen stew bread,” which is a round French loaf hollowed out and beef stew poured inside. Freshly baked and stewed with local ingredients, the flavor and novelty are worth the trip. Many of their other breads are also onsen-themed or inspired by the mountains of Hakone, such as a rustic-looking bread named after the rocks in Owakudani’s geopark. Throughout the year they have a number of limited-edition breads that change depending on the season, too.
8. Kaiseki Ryori
Hakone is overflowing with not only onsens but traditional Japanese style hotels, called ryokan. You’ll find most of the accommodation in Hakone will have an onsen bath to enjoy, whether it be for private use or public. An overnight trip to Hakone is particularly magical, as you can relax your body after exploring the beautiful hills and attractions, and finish off the day with a beautiful kaiseki meal. Kaiseki cuisine or kaiseki ryori is the haute cuisine of Japan, a high-class multi-course meal. It’s generally served as a number of small, beautiful dishes, hand-crafted and presented impeccably by highly trained kaiseki chefs. Balanced in colors, ingredients, and flavors, a kaiseki banquet in Hakone is a must-try, and it’s a good opportunity to taste many of Hakone’s local delicacies, with so much delicious and beautiful food. Many ryokan offer this kind of elegant, extravagant meal, and it’s a wonderful and worthwhile experience.
9. Hakone Craft Beer
Suzuhiro Kamaboko, the kamaboko guys from earlier, also dabble in making craft beer which you can drink on-tap at their location by Lake Ashi. Designed to complement Japanese food without being overpowering, their now-famous Hakone Beer has become known as one of the best craft beers in Japan. With awards from both the Asia Beer Cup and the International Beer Competition, Hakone Beer is unique because it’s made from the delicious spring waters of Hakone, which is iron-free and crystal-clear. Expect a tasty Hakone Pilsner or an Odawara Ale, the perfect drinks to have on a Hakone trip. Gora Brewery and Grill, up the hill, also make craft beers and serve some fancy pub-style food. Hakone also sells some locally-produced fruit-infused beers, for something unexpected and a little sweet.
If you’re not such a fan of beer, Yunessun Spa Resort in Hakone offers “onsen” where you can bathe in sake, tea, wine, the works. Supposedly these baths have health benefits, different from the minerals in the normal hot spring water. At least the novelty is high, for those who would truly like to immerse themselves in the beverages of Hakone.
With beautiful views of Mount Fuji in the background, you can cleanse yourself in comfort and style, plus fill your belly with Hakone specialty foods. Knowing what to eat in Hakone can be difficult as the town is quite spread out, but this onsen town has countless cozy restaurants and things to try. Selling every kind of food, from spicy red curry to hot pots to Western-style dishes, not just limited to the best foods in Hakone on our list. Onsen-themed treats or black egg souvenirs are also fun to check out on a trip to Hakone.
Article from Tokyo by Food.
Tokyo by Food is a platform for food events in Tokyo, with over 80 experiences to choose from and a fantastic resource for learning about Japan’s thriving food culture! What’s more, Tokyo by Food runs a charitable outreach program, the Food for Happiness Project, which donates 10 meals to children in Cambodia for each person who books a food event through our platform!
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