One thing that visitors to Matsumoto love is the walkability of this big little town. It's easy to get around on foot, and finding something to do or see never takes long. This is especially true up in the village of Asama Onsen, where you can enjoy soba-making, sake-tasting and fresh wasabi-grating in the space of half a short block. A group of us did just that this past week, and already I want to go back. Check it out and you'll want to go too.
Yamazaki-san has been making soba by hand for forty years. And yet he still defers to his soba sensei, Yanagisawa-san. They can craft a mountain of soba noodles in a matter of minutes.
But for us they took their time, explaining the methods they employ and taking us through the steps of the process: mixing the flour with water, bit by bit; kneading the soba dough; rolling it thin with long wooden rods and cutting it with the master’s razor-sharp knife. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy. It takes time to get the hang of it. But it is absolutely worth it.
A few doors down the street we settled in at the Tsukemono-Kissa Restaurant, run by Yamazaki-san until he handed the reins to his son. There we were served the soba we’d just made, along with some just-fried tempura and, along the way, a few additional tasty extras.
As the third highest sake-producing prefecture in Japan, Nagano is home to plenty of high-quality sake brewers. At Tsukemono-Kissa we were treated to three kinds of sake, all of them from Nagano, one from right here in Matsumoto.
To go with our sake-sampling we got a quick lesson in the basics of making great sake, and in the spirit of the name Tsukemono-Kissa we were also served several kinds of tsukemono – pickled vegetables that go perfectly with sake.
As a side dish, tsukemono can be found in all types of eateries all across Japan. They are usually rather salty, but here they make their tsukemono right on the premises, producing a miniature dish that is light on salt and big on taste.
Rounding out our meal – which by this time had become more of an event – was the chance to see, smell, and taste fresh wasabi that we would grate ourselves. This wasabi comes from Daio, Japan’s largest wasabi farm, which lies just up the road. Wasabi is known worldwide as a super-spicy condiment, but freshly-grated wasabi has a certain sweetness to it that will fade if you leave it on your plate too long.
At Tsukemono-Kissa, this wasn’t an issue.
There is certainly plenty to do and see here in Matsumoto. In the onsen village of Asama you can experience soba-making, sake-tasting, and fresh wasabi-grating all in the space of half a block. With a traditional Japanese onsen right next door to Tsukemono-Kissa and an outdoor ‘ashi-yu’ foot bath right around the corner, Asama offers the rare chance to do a lot in just a few hours.