05 May 2020 in Food Culture
Learn the art of making soba noodles, miso or washi paper under the guidance of local experts.
The tiny city of Omachi (27,500 inhabitants) is just an hour’s drive from Nagano, host city of the 1998 Winter Olympics – but the two places are worlds apart in terms of atmosphere. While Nagano is a vibrant hub for the local area, rural Omachi has the feel of an authentic working town.
Situated at 700 metres altitude, its streets are filled with cottage industries and small businesses that excel in traditional Japanese arts and cuisine. Many of these local companies offer hands-on workshops to guests.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten track experience or you want genuine insights into Japanese cuisine and crafts, Omachi is the perfect destination.
Why not try your hand at making mountain food such as oyaki stuffed dumplings? Crafting your own miso from soybeans. Or exploring your artistic side under the guidance of local artisans.
As a bonus, you’ll have the mighty peaks of the Northern Japanese Alps as your backdrop – and plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors during your stay.
At Hoshino Resorts KAI Alps, Omachi’s craft and cuisine culture is on your doorstep. This recently-renovated ryokan in the city’s northern district is a 10-minute drive from the centre.
Inside the ryokan, contemporary design combines with classic Japanese hospitality. You’ll have access to indoor and outdoor hot spring baths, plus a communal room centred on the irori, a traditional Japanese wood-burning hearth. In winter, the ryokan provides free shuttle buses to the powder-snow haven of Hakuba.
And all year round, you can hone your culinary and creative skills at nearby restaurants and shops.
Celebrated soba noodles
Omachi has a long tradition of culinary expertise. Like much of Nagano Prefecture, it’s particularly well-known for buckwheat (soba) noodles. At Iroya Yasaka, the art of artisanal soba making has been passed down from generation to generation – and you can learn their secrets at a 90-minute workshop.
You’ll be taught to knead dough of buckwheat flour and water, spread it thinly with a stick, and cut it into long thin noodles.
Alternatively, you can sign up for a 3-hour session to make oyaki, a speciality buckwheat dumpling baked on a hot plate. This is hearty mountain food, with the filling likely to include seasonal vegetables such as leafy nozawana, eggplant or onion.
After your hard work in the kitchen, you can enjoy your creation in the restaurant – along with other specialities like oysters and tempura.
Ever wondered how miso is made?
At Marukome Co. Ltd., you can find out first hand. This miso specialist crafts and ages the Japanese speciality using a cold preparation method that deepens the taste.
During the workshop, you’ll crush Nagano soybeans by hand until you form a paste and then mix it with salt and koji, a fungal culture used to ferment the paste and transform it into miso.
You’ll have to keep your creation a few months before you can eat it, but the company also offers a Miso Comparison Classroom, where you can taste different ingredients and products of various ages.
Ancient soup stock
Wachigai is a restaurant housed in a beautiful 130-year-old townhouse, lined with tatami mats. It serves local Omachi specialities such as frozen mochi and Wagai Nagadashi noodle soup. Every Wednesday, the chef reveals the secrets of his soup stock and invites visitors to make their own.
The experience lasts about 2-and-a-half hours, including eating your soup at the end. As a bonus, the restaurant will give you recipes for some of the other items on its menu, so you can try to recreate them back home.
If you prefer crafts over cuisine, Omachi has plenty to offer. At the Matsuzaki Washi company, you can make your own washi paper postcard. The four-person workshop has existed for over 100 years and specializes in mixing local flowers into their paper.
At their premises, you’ll learn how to sieve a solution of pounded bark and glue to achieve just the right thickness of paper – and then decorate it with wild flora. If you’re feeling ambitious, why not progress to make your own washi fan, coaster or candle holder?
Your final hands-on experience? A workshop to make your own scent at the Aroma Experience Studio. Choose from a dozen essential oils, then add ethanol and Alpine meltwater to create your own unique room spray.
What better souvenir to remember your creative stay in the heart of the Japanese Alps?