Raw Temptation

Posted by on Oct 18, 2011 in Nagano, Travel Volunteer Journey | One Comment
Raw Temptation

We had half an idea about Nagano before arriving in Japan. The monkeys, the legendary snow, the world class ski-runs… None of that was a surprise. The unbelievable autumn colours were a bonus; as was the hospitality of the people we met along the way.

People like talented snow-fanatic Yasu of the Tabi Tabi Lodge in Hakuba. He has made this little town his home and no wonder: it is one of Japan’s top ski-destinationss with seven different resorts, including the steepest slopes in the country. When the Winter Olympics came here, Hakuba was used for several of the top downhill competitions, as well as being site of the ski-jumping stadium.

Sadly, only the very tops of the peaks here have received their first dusting of the season, so we admired it all from afar and got on a train to Matsumoto.

Again, the charms here were no secret: the enormous castle at the centre of town is Japan’s oldest and unsurprisingly, a national treasure. Matsumoto is also the home of artist and polka-dot botherer Yayoi Kusama, several of whose works can be found at a permanent exhibition at the excellent Museum of Art (currently being made more excellent by a visiting Studio Ghibli exhibition).

But still, pleasant as all this was, none of it was a surprise – nor was the news that Nagano is the latest prefecture to claim to make the best soba in the country. It’s worth investigating these things, though, so we headed into a small noodle shop with our highly affable guide Hitomi Hirasawa.

That’s when the surprises started because, as Hitomi explained, one of the other culinary treats here is horse meat. Raw. There have been several times in my life when I’ve wished for the violent demise of horses (mostly at racecourses when my good money was disappearing after their bad performances) but they were nothing more than brief, apoplectic fantasies.

Not being the sort to shy away from a new things, though, and with neither of us having any particular affection for horses, we decided to order a plate.

A few minutes later, there he was, Mr Ed, dead. I smeared a little ginger on the flesh, dipped it in soy sauce and chewed – for quite a long time. Katy, perhaps because we’d watched an episode of the ever-disturbing Walking Dead just the night before, declined the offer. And, to be honest, she didn’t miss out on much. It tasted OK, but I couldn’t help feel that the real reason horse isn’t eaten everywhere has nothing to do with love of the animals, and a lot to do with the fact there are half a dozen or so red meats that taste much better than it does.

A couple of hours later we were feeling a little peckish again, so Hitomi suggested we pop into a local food shop. There they had a jar of bee pupae, which we refused, and marinated grasshoppers, which we thought we could at least try.

It’s not a recipe we’ll be taking back to Scotland.

Grasshopper from Travel Volunteer on Vimeo.

The last surprise came at the dinner table. Yesterday, back up in Hakuba, we bumped into a friendly Canadian guy who has made Japan his home for the past 11 years. When we mentioned our trip to Matsumoto he immediately recommended that we track down a restaurant called Tori Shin.

At it’s core, he said, it’s a yakitori restaurant (essentially salty BBQ, many of the recipes for which we definitely will be taking home) that specialises in chicken. They serve chicken breast, legs and wings of course, but also skin, neck meat, soft bone, livers, hearts and cartilage. But above all, he added, we should make a point of ordering the toriwasa: uncooked chicken.

As I mentioned once before, this goes against all known logic at home – and of all the raw flesh to eat in the world, chicken is the greatest anathema.

But having finally found Tori Shin hidden up an alleyway, we steeled ourselves and ordered the signature dish. Crucially, toriwasa isn’t absolutely raw: it is boiled for 30 seconds to give it a millimetre of white coating, just enough to kill any bacteria. The opaque pinkness on the inside of that is totally safe, and utterly delicious. Seasoned, as the name suggests, with wasabi, there’s a little sake, a little salt and a tenderness that absolutely cannot be replicated by conventional chicken. It was just one of half a dozen styles we tried, all of which were excellent (though not especially cheap). However, in a day of culinary shocks, it should have been no surprise that the toriwasa was the very best.

Our time in Nagano prefecture was made possible by:

Yasu and friends at Tabi Tabi, Hakuba, who gave us free run of his kitchen to cook for ourselves for the first time in ages, and who made us wish more than ever that we were in Nagano for winter. If you ever get the chance, be sure to ask him about the snow-surfing revival.

Hitomi Hirasawa, for showing us around Matsumoto and constantly reassuring us that what we were eating wouldn’t kill us, and for being relaxed and funny. You can wave to her in our video, and book her services through her website.









彼曰く、その焼き鳥店はまさに鶏肉専門店で、胸肉、脚、翼、皮、首、内臓など鳥の全てを食べさせてくれると・・・。そんな中でも一番のお勧めは“とりわさ”- なんと生の鶏肉らしい。




1 Comment

  1. mic_home
    December 12, 2011

    You tried tori-wasa. good, isn’t it? I like it, too.
    Please come to Matsumoto again, and enjoy your trip.