Sunday, January 9, 2011

Yamabukitei, Shiroishi (やまぶき亭)

Once I heard an expression in Japanese that translated as "1,000 regional specialties, none of them good." I've mentioned to a lot of people since then, and no one has ever heard it before. I mention it (again) now in the hope that some will verify it.

If you're at all a regular reader here, I'm sure you see where this is going - these regional-specialty noodles are pretty dull. Actually the 'U-men' found in Shiroishi were invented by a guy as a gentle meal to feed his sickly father, so you can guess how exciting they'll be. Yamabukitei is almost certainly the most famous place to eat them. And it has a waterwheel. But hell, what are you going to do, drive around in the country and not get excited by these little things? That would be missing the point completely.

Here are the miso u-men (if it's not clear, the 'u' is pronounced like 'Oooh!' but written like on or attakai, so there's nothing special going on, just 'warm noodles'). The miso soup was OK, and the noodles are like thin udon, or even soumen. The bottom dish of cold noodles with mushrooms was pretty interesting, and the spicy paste livened things up halfway through even if someone thought I had ruined the soup completely.

But the miso soup wasn't as good by half as the niboshi-styled soup with someone's tenpura u-men (ooooh!). Strong stuff, pretty good.

And ooooh, the other regional specialty we read about in the guidebook - zunda mochi. Let me defer consideration of this item until we visit a specialty shop tomorrow. Until then, I'll just say it's mashed, sweetened soybeans on top of pounded sticky rice. Crap, I just said everything there is to say. No, these are actually good. More later.

'More later' is a funny but perhaps apt epithet for the careers of Japanese politicians. The TV was on while we ate lunch, as it is in many good places, and I managed to snap this shot. Can you imagine a TV program with, say, Jimmy Carter sitting in a hot bath with two other men to discuss life, then putting on bathrobes to eat icecream? This is Shinzo Abe, the prime minister who followed the successful Junichiro Koizumi and started the succession of sub-one-year PMs. Incidentally, our trip marked the 6-month anniversary of Naoto Kan becoming PM. We must be due for a change; I can't believe he's made it this far.

Also incidentally, I thought Abe's father had been PM, but it seems it was his grandfather that was PM as well as founding the Democratic Party (which merged into today's Liberal Democratic Party).

Ever seen this ad? If you've been to train stations, or watched TV, in Japan, you've probably seen this campaign. In keeping with the Japanese love of fitting in, you could summarize this as "Adult Vacations", or more literally "If you became an adult, you'd want to do this." (This goes along with the tightly-banded age-specific magazines.) What's cool about this specific ad is that it was actually shot in Yamabukitei. It's still easy to get a little thrill from that, no matter what the u-men are like.


Again moving on, there's pretty big brewery in Shiroishi, Zao Brewing. Based on the bottle we drank after dinner this day, they're pretty good too. I would have loved to visit the brewery, not to see the tanks and stuff - they look the same everywhere, so I could do one or two more if you're somehow interested, but that's all - but to taste their whole range in peace. They were closed. Boo on that.

The Zao of the name is a the area, and a pretty big one at that. There's a Zao Town, but it's over the mountains (inaccessible this time of year without a big detour), and we were actually in 'Shiroishi Zao'. Since the name Zao sounds very Batman-esque (Zow! Blam! Pow!), I was really happy to see them including an exclamation point on their sign.

The other attraction in Shiroishi, probably the main attraction really, is the castle. It's not big, and it's been completely rebuilt, but in a good way - all authentic materials, faithful to the original design. As a foreign visitor in winter, that means just one thing to me - I'll have to take my shoes off, and it will be f-in cold in there. People talk about the 'warmth of wood', but I'm here to tell ya that polished floorboards suck the heat right outta yer toes in January.

Shiroishi is one of the main gateways to Zao, the ski areas and such. The park's status is a bit of a sensitive point. It seems like you shouldn't ask the locals why it's only quasi-national, so we never figured out if it's more regional than national, or if it's more like an official park of a quasi-nation.

And now, off to the mountains to get frozen and boiled, alternately.

1 comment:

  1. really waiting to hear the stories about the snow and the baths! Hope there are some pictures of it too?!?