Owing to its long history of provincial living, Japan is a country of countless regions, each with its own dialect, traditions and food. Surrounded by mountains, Matsumoto and the wider Shinshu region are certainly no exception. To make your visit to Matsumoto complete, it is well worth it to seek out the best local food and drink around, made and loved by the people who have lived here for generations. To get you off to a tasty start, here are our top suggestions.
Yes, this salty brown bean paste is found all over Japan. Even globally, miso soup is gaining in popularity. But can you take a guess as to how much of the nation’s miso is produced right here in Nagano Prefecture?
If you guessed half, congratulations! Of all the miso consumed by over 100 million Japanese people each day, almost a full fifty percent of it comes from Nagano. Yet of all that miso, only a small percentage is made the old-fashioned way, hand-crafted and aged for up to three years, or sometimes even longer, in huge cedar barrels.
Only miso made the old-fashioned way earns the venerated title of ‘Shinshu Miso’. Everything else is just miso. So for the stuff made in the time-honored, traditional way, ask for Shinshu Miso – or better yet, take a walk to the local Miso Brewery, one of Japan’s few remaining traditional makers, right here in Matsumoto.
This brown noodle is also found all over Japan. But even JNTO, the Japan National Tourism Organization, will tell you that soba maintains a strong connection to Shinshu, where it is believed soba was first made and eaten in its present-day noodle form.
But in terms of soba, Shinshu has more than just history on its side. The quality of the rich volcanic soil combined with the seasonal highland climate make Shinshu the perfect place for soba cultivation. Even with all its mountainous terrain, Nagano Prefecture is the second highest producer of soba in all of Japan.
Add to this the bountiful pure water springs found throughout the Matsumoto area, and it’s no surprise that Shinshu Soba is tops. Don’t leave town without getting some. Or, for a real hands-on experience, let a soba master show you how to make soba for yourself!
Wasabi too has found its way into kitchens all over the world. This super-spicy green paste is best-known as a condiment paired with sashimi,sushi and soba. But it is actually quite versatile, as the locals will attest.
The key to great wasabi is clean, gently-flowing water. Lucky for us that is exactly what we have here in Matsumoto. Much of the rain and snowmelt running down off the Northern Alps to the west flows underground across the plains, reemerging north of town in cold, crystal-clear streams that are integral to the production of excellent wasabi. It should not be surprising, then, that the largest wasabi farm in all of Japan can be found right here in Shinshu, just up the road from the center of Matsumoto.
A visit to the local Wasabi Farm makes for a great half-day trip. And is an enchanting and unique addition to your time here in Matsumoto. To make it easy on yourself, why not let us show you around!
Known to the locals as ‘Seishu’ or ‘Nihonshu’, the clear, crisp spirit most of the world knows as Japanese Sake is produced all over the place. But once again, we find that conditions in Shinshu are perfect for the brewing of excellent Nihonshu.
Along with clean, mineral-rich mountain water, Matsumoto’s dry, cool climate helps facilitate the enzyme activity so critical to the brewing process, Matsumoto also delivers the sort of high-quality rice necessary to produce high-quality sake.
You can take our word for it if you like – or you can taste it for yourself while getting a rare close-up look at the sake-brewing process!
And if you still aren’t full…
Sanzoku-yaki is the name of Shinshu’s unique lightly-fried chicken cutlet, and is a specialty that should not be missed. Eaten with fresh-steamed rice and washed down with some barley “mugi-cha” tea, sanzoku-yaki makes for a satisfying dish.
O-yaki is the simple name of a simple, soft dumpling stuffed with local vegetables. They are traditionally sold along quiet mountain roads. But can of course be found right here in town too – and make for a great, quick snack!
Apples abound in the Shinshu autumn season! Aomori Prefecture, in the farthest reaches of northern Honshu, may be Japan’s most famous apple producer, but we think the apples grown right here are Japan’s best.
Shinshu Salmon is an exquisite one-of-a-kind dish. But how does a landlocked region end up producing Japan’s largest local brand of salmon? We’re not sure, but we think it has something to do with the fact that it is delicious! Raw or smoked, Shinshu Salmon is just one more reason to dig into Matsumoto’s local food scene.
Finding great food is easy in Matsumoto. But for the added enjoyment of getting up close and behind the scenes, give us a call. We’d love to introduce you to the best local food and drink Shinshu has to offer!
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