CultureTraditional Food and Drinking Culture of Kansai, Some of It Almost Forgotten

I spent a week touring around Kyoto, Nara and Shiga prefectures, getting treated to a royal suite of culinary delights and cultural experiences. There were too many events for the space I have to write about them, but here were the highlights:

Imanishi Honten

We started off at Imanishi Honten, a Nara-zuke factory in Nara Prefecture. Highly recommended for those who want a detailed explanation of how these famous tsukemono, a.k.a Japanese pickles, are made. The owner of this shop remains one of the few who don’t cut any corners with Nara-zuke, which are now 99 percent produced by large companies, outsourced to places as far-reaching as Indonesia.

Kawashima Brewery

We also visited Kawashima Brewery in Shiga Prefecture. Getting an in-depth look at the mysterious process of handmade sake making was a stimulating experience, but it was saddening to hear from the owner that the number of sake producers in Japan has fallen from 3,000 to 1,300 due to the disappearance of the natural environments necessary for sake brewing, and the migration of the Japanese population towards cheap alcohols.

Kogetsu

During these five days, we ate at many highly regarded restaurants in the Kansai area, but the standout meal of the trip was at Kogetsu, a restaurant in the small town of Kusatsu in Shiga Prefecture. This isolated establishment has managed to fully book its lunch reservations until the end of 2017, and if you eat there you will understand why. Our meal featured many courses, all of which paired incredibly well with the sake on offer. The teriyaki eel topped with edible leaves and accompanied by mashed gobo puree left the strongest impression, but the half cooked rice topped with half cooked soy sauce, white miso potato potage and garlic marinated sashimi held their own as well.

What we can do

Kogetsu is a rare success story, but many of the great food and drinking experiences available in this area may not be available much longer, if we continue to refuse to look further than convenience stores for our eating and drinking needs. These places need your support!

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