Grilled as you like it

Delicious Kiso June 7, 2009

gohei mochi 2
a popular Gohei-mochi shop

One of the best things about our spring trip to the Kiso Valley in Nagano was all of the delicious food. Our first taste was Nagano’s famous Shinshu-soba with mountain vegetables and Gohei-mochi. I loved Gohei-mochi, which was a roughly pounded mochi (some of the grains of rice are still whole or in larger bits) that is shaped around a wooden skewer and grilled with a delicious sauce. Everywhere we went the Gohei-mochi had a slightly different flavor, so it was really fun to try a bunch and compare them. My favorites were the one that we had with our lunch set on the first day in Tsumago and the ones served with our dinner at Koushinzuka minshuku. At Koushinzuka they told us that their sauce is made with local walnuts that they collect in the fall, with miso, sugar, soy sauce, and sesame. Most of the others that we tried used peanuts instead of walnuts. The shop above in Magome was cute, but I didn’t like his mochi and sauce as much as the other shops that I mentioned. On our way home we stopped in Narai, where we tried another delicious variation. We had two mochi, one with the familiar nutty sauce, and another with a black sesame and sugar sauce.

Want to try making your own Gohei-mochi? Try the recipe here.

magome 3

This adorable snack shop in Magome had a bunch of different traditional-style candies, nuts, and crackers. There were lots of samples to try. Our favorites were the roasted soybeans rolled in ground black sesame and sugar. On the down side, they were quite expensive.

magome irori

The waterwheel building in Magome had a beautiful example of a traditional irori (fireplace). The family can sit around the fire to keep warm, prepare food, and enjoy their meals. The sculptured fish is not just decorative, it is actually and ingenious lever that can be used to raise and lower the level of the kettle over the fire. Behind the irori you can also see a tansu staircase with drawers that are used for storage. This building also had old grinding stones for grinding grains attached to the waterwheel mechanism.

rows of flavored sembei in a shop window

magome lunch 1

In Magome we enjoyed lunch at Daikokuya. At the top is a soy-simmered freshwater char, while the set below featured konbu-wrapped trout. The best part of the set was the delicious chestnut rice, kurikowameshi, in the black-lidded box. The clear soup with yuba at the bottom right was also very good.

magome lunch 2

Our favorite meals on the trip were definitely the ones that we enjoyed at our Koushinzuka, our minshuku in Tsumago. Everything was served around the irori and our hosts happily explained the interesting traditional and wild ingredients used to make them.

tsumago dinner 1
the beginning of dinner (from left to right): A cup of steamed vegetables topped with grated yama-imo and yuzu zest, simered vegetables and tofu dumplings, nokanzou ohitashi, udo (a spring vegetable) with plum sauce, and Gohei-mochi

tsumago dinner 8
Nokanzou ohitashi: the innkeeper’s wife showed me the description of this vegatable in a botanical book. I was surprised to see that they are actually the early spring sprouts of a wild orange-flowered lily. She said that later in the season you can also tempura-fry the flower buds and eat them too.

tsumago dinner 7
udo with plum sauce

tsumago dinner 4
wild spring vegetable tempura: seri, nanohana, wild red sorrel, nokanzou, and yomogi (I think)

tsumago dinner 2
grilled iwana (char): this river fish is a local specialty that made an appearance in many of our meals. The innkeeper showed us an easy way to pull the bones from the fish all at once to make it easy to eat.

tsumago dinner 5
homemade tsukemono

tsumago dinner 6
Gohei-mochi; the sauce is made from small wild walnuts, sesame seeds, soy sauce, sugar, and miso. While we enjoyed our dinner, the innkeeper showed us the shells of the walnuts as he told his stories about gathering the nuts in the fall. Then he tossed the shells into the irori fire. The oil-rich shells caught fire and sounded like tiny jets as they hissed and made the flames much larger.

tsumago irori
the irori at Koushinzuka; the fish on the kettle-hanger is covered in soot from years of daily use

tsumago breakfast 1
breakfast at Koushinzuka (from left to right): rice, shoyu-zuke tamago and sliced yama-imo, umeboshi, mountain vegetables, and simmered vegetables and dumplings in a thick sauce were served with simmered iwana (below)

tsumago breakfast 3
sweet soy-simmered iwana (char): this fish was so small that we could eat the whole thing–head, bones, tail and all

tsumago breakfast 2
shoyu-zuke tamago and sliced yama-imo: The soy-sauce pickled egg yolk was very tasty, but the yama-imo was a bit too slimy for my taste.

See more photos from our Kiso Valley trip at Alex’s photoblog


One Response to “Delicious Kiso”

  1. Joan Bailey Says:

    Thanks for sharing! We were recently visiting Nagano Prefecture, too, and it’s good to read someone else’s impressions. The wild vegetables were simply amazing.

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