Back to my posts about Japan. So after Kyoto, we travelled to Takayama. This is a small town, 110km northeast of Nagoya in the Central Alps.
It used to be known for the skilled carpenters employed by emperors to build palaces and temples in Kyoto and Nara. Nowadays it is known for its small streets and the old merchant houses.
The dark wooden houses date from the mid 19th century. They have been turned into craft shops, cafes and also sake breweries.
Now, the town is quite a tourist attraction with lots of people visiting Takayama. During the day time the shops, cafes and restaurants are open and the streets are full of people. Once it turns 6pm, the shops close, the tourist buses leave and it becomes quieter again. That’s when we enjoyed walking through these narrow streets the most.
The craft shops sell all kind of crafts – from pottery and wood sculptures to knitted hats and dried fruit chips. There are quite a few shops selling snacks (from tuna sashimi over dumplings filled with cherry blossom flavour to deep fried sweet potato) as well as food items to take back home.
We walked into a store selling miso paste, which is the traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus. The result is a thick paste used for sauces and spreads, pickling vegetables or meats, and mixing with dashi soup stock.
Miso is widely used in Japan, both in traditional and modern cooking, and this shops had a few different types on sale. You could try them pure or already mixed into dashi soup stock to turn into a miso soup.
Next, we visited a sake brewery. The Hida area is well known for its sake for over 400 years. At one time there were 56 breweries in Takayama. Now there are just six functioning ones left and they are all easily spotted by the balls of cedar leaves hanging above their entrances.
Sake is made from fermented rice. Sake is sometimes called “rice wine” but the brewing process is more as rice beer, converting starch to sugar for the fermentation process.
Sake is all about the water (pure, fresh, and directly from the mountains next to Takayama), the rice (polished down to its starchy essence), and the koji (the mold that converts the starch to sugar so the yeast can convert it to alcohol).
We visited the Funasaka Sake Brewery, which proactively develops new tastes of sake while keeping its tradition. The representative varieties include daiginjo ”Miyama giku” which is fermented at low temperatures for longer periods, freshly stored “Hida no Jingorou” and “Yubae” using ancient rice.
There are various grades and styles of sake but, and we tried the different tasting sets to find out which one we like best.
We realised that we did not like the red or the milky ones. Also the dry ones could be quite strong in taste – so we realised we preferred the sweeter ones, which were more fruity and also had higher levels of alcohol.