Saturday, April 11, 2009

Handmade pure soba: Shimizu at Nagano Prefecture

with thanks to the fine hosting of the kind folks at Seiko-Epson

I had the occasion to be in Japan, and was invited by the Seiko-Epson folks to visit their factory located at Shiojiri, Nagano Prefecture. The factory houses their Micro-Artisan Studio, and the assembly plant for the famous Sprin Drive watches.

We had dinner at this home style restaurant...on entry, we were greeted by the owners of Shimizu Soba:



The restaurant seemed to be set within their home, and I can see two private dining tatami rooms, each enclosed with traditional sliding paper doors. Within the room we had our dinner, was simply decorated...it had a piano on one side, and a Japanese lacquer table, and pillows for us to sit, Japanese style, either cross legged or kneeling.

The first course was seafood:



From left was a kind of roll with cucumber, potato and radish. Light and refreshing. Middle was a smoked rainbow trout, though it looked grilled or deep fried till crisp in a thick black sauce. A slice of lemon and a sprig of ginger completed the decoration. The whole fish can be eaten, including the bones, head and tail. The skin was crispy, the meat within milky sweet, and the soft bones provided some resistance to the bite. Very tasty! Oishi was repeated by all around the table. The prawn was a little unusual, I thought, it was wrapped in cheese, and lightly grilled. The prawn was very fresh, and the cheese provided a rich accompaniment.

A dish of pickles accompany:



Two types of cucumber...apparently a speciality of the area. One is lightly pickled with wasabi, and the other more plainly possibly with home made vinegar. Both were tasty.

Next course was a lettuce salad, with special dressing and instead of croutons, deep fried house soba. (more about the soba later, which is a speciality of this restaurant).




The lettuce was very fresh, crunchy, tasty. The dressing reminded me of soy sauce, perhaps a touch of fish or chicken stock, and grated radish.

Chawanmushi was next...this was again very well done, the egg creamy, soft, lightly steamed.



And embedded within the egg, I found chunks of chicken, ginko nuts, fish cake, and a whole fresh scallop. Wonderful!

Next up, shashimi:



Two slices of fish, I forget the name, but I was told it looked somewhat like an eel, bur flat, was sliced thinly displaying the silvery skin side...very beautiful. Japanese cuisine is about engaging all the senses - sight, smell, taste. The dish looked like a work of art. The taste of the fish was rich, creamy meat, and had a fishy, oily taste. The prawn shashimi was super fresh...light yet rich, fresh, sweet.

The tamago drew great appreciation from the table.



Lightly cooked, but only so, slight runny, but not quite...the tamago is layer after layer of such delicately cooked egg. Very lightly seasoned. Again very delicious.

Tempura, home style:



Asparagus - fresh and in season, was lightly battered and deep fried, tempura style. Another huge prawn, fresh was also fried tempura style, but in a kind of home style, where the crispy batter was whipped into some swirls around the prawn. The prawn was tasty, as usual, and the batter very light and crispy.

Finally the home made soba. Known as Genbanosho shown below:



The soba is made from black buckwheat grown in Yatsugatake Mountains in Shinshu, hand milled in the premises with a stone mill, and hand formed and cut. As can be seen, the soba appears uneven, unlike factory made soba. The owners explained that they only use pure buckwheat, and do not mix the grain with regular wheat which is typically used in factory made soba. The result is pure 100% buckwheat soba.

Shimizu has many types of Sobas; Sarashina Soba (First Flour) providing you with sweetness and great taste: Hiki-gurumi (Second Flour) providing you with great taste: Inaka (Third Flour) providing you with traditional





The texture is interesting...very springy, spongy. Very tasty. Served cold, it was dipped in a special sauce of soyu and other ingredients, with a small bit of wasabi, and slurpped with a great noise. Very enjoyable, and special.

We then tasted the three great sobas of the prefecture: a serving of Sarashina; Hikigurumi; Inaka. (L to R)



From left, Sarashina, First Flour. Sarashina is white Soba kneaded with Sarashina buckwheat made in Kurohime plateau. Please enjoy the sweetness and flavor. Sarashina buckwheat is also called as “Ozen.” Approximately 10 % of buckwheat flour is available from the center of the Soba seed. It does not have much flavor; therefore, it is kneaded with wine. The pure white texture is a result of having discarded the black outer part of the seed.

In the middle, Hikigurumi, Second Flour. Hikigurumi is kneaded with two types of buckwheat flours that are made in Kurohime plateau and the foot of the Yatsugatake Mountains. Second flour is used.

And right, Inaka, Third Flour. Inaka is kneaded with two types of buckwheat flours that are made in Kurohime plateau and the foot of the Yatsugatake Mountains. Third flour is used. Inaka has original taste, sweeter and more flavorless.

Very interesting soba experience. And wonderful food.





Shimizu
76-1 Souga Ooaza Shiojiri, Nagano 399-6461, Japan

Tel/Fax 0263-51-1348

Mail Address sobaya-shimizu@wine.plala.or.jp

Business Hours
11:00 AM - 2:00 PM
5:00 PM - 8:00 PM (Only the guest of the reservation) Closed on Tuesday

Photonotes: Shot with Panasonic Lumix DMC LX-3, limited to ISO200.
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