It’s been nearly a month since my last post. Truthfully, there hasn’t been much time for contemplation or writing. I’ve been rather busy at work in preparation for an upcoming (i.e.: leaving tomorrow!) trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Cooking has also taken a backseat, hence the lack of recipe posts lately. Most nights, I resort to simple stir-fries, pastas, and rice bowls. Though delicious, they’re not very blog-worthy. (Nor very photogenic. The fluorescent lighting in my apartment certainly doesn’t help matters.)
But enough excuses. I’m here to write!
Despite the silence, I have been eating well lately. The cooler weather has thankfully brought back my appetite for ramen as well as Korean food. I enjoyed an excellent, extremely garlicky meal of the latter with my friend Saori in Shinokubo (Tokyo’s Koreatown). Matusmoto also has its fair share of Korean shops and eateries, one of which Steven and I tried on a particularly chilly, wet day in October. Two words: soondubu jjigae. With clams. Amazing.
Autumn is also the time of the soba harvest in Japan. In mid-October, Steven and I attended the fabulous Shinshu Matsumoto Soba Festival (信州松本そば祭り). About twenty soba vendors from around Japan had set up shop in the park around Matsumoto castle, along with many other local businesses selling everything from dried fruit to local meat and Japanese-style bagels (think flavors like wakame, kabocha, red bean paste, etc.)
We tried two very different but equally delicious bowls of soba. The first dish consisted of cold noodles in mentsuyu topped with blanched wasabi greens and thinly sliced negi (Japanese leek). The noodles were perfect – springy, with a pleasing variety of shapes and sizes – always a good indication that the noodles were handmade! But the real star was the wasabi greens, which had all the sweetness of the freshly grated root but a bit less of its sinus-clearing pungency.
The second bowl – soba in hot broth with duck (kamo) and negi – was less unique but provided a much-needed blast of warmth after walking around in the pouring rain.
I recently enjoyed more soba on a day-trip with friends to Azumino, a sprawling city-suburb to the north of Matsumoto. The restaurant, Kurumaya, was tucked away on a lovely country road among shaded pine groves and numerous old-fashioned onsen.
We ordered zaru soba, the house specialty, along with some shrimp tempura. The noodles, which were some of the most delicate and tasty I’ve eaten, came with an generous plate of negi and freshly grated wasabi for mixing with the broth. As is customary with zaru soba, we finished our meal with soba yu. This is the hot, nutrient-rich water leftover from cooking the noodles, which arrives in a teapot-like vessel. To drink it, you simply pour some into your leftover broth and sip. Alternately, you can enjoy it by itself as a sort of tea. I actually prefer this method, because the broth is quite salty.
Following the meal, we walked to a nearby onsen for a soak. Lightheaded but thoroughly warm, we emerged from the bathhouse into that slanting, golden light unique to autumn afternoons.
The day ended with a twilight walk along an abandoned route of the Shinonoi line, which runs from Shiojiri (south of Matsumoto) up to Nagano city. Although the path was clearly maintained to some degree, it retained an unsettling air of abandonment. The electric wires had been removed, although their concrete supports remained, and fallen leaves crunched underfoot. Signs of activity were few and far between – some cabbage was planted along one side, and a group of bee hives stood further ahead. As if in deference to the mountains, we walked separately, silently, absorbing the eerie yet enchanting scene.
I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking. See you in two weeks!