THE THREE QUESTIONS TO GUARANTEE MY FOOD FIX
So one of the first things I do when I arrive in a new town is to gently interrogate the unfortunate local within the immediate vicinity. Depending on the type of town I’m visiting, the questions are subject to change, however there are a handful of fundamental questions that would never be skipped by me. These questions are:
- Where I should eat;
- Where do I need to eat; and
- Are either of these places where you eat?
These aren’t revolutionary questions, but they have impacted my life in a real way. Especially when it comes to question No. 3, because if they say no, I repeat questions No. 1 and No. 2 and clarify I want the places that don’t cater to the tourists, but the local palette (AND OH SNOW GODS, I sounded like such a douche there…but when it comes to food, I’m as serious as I am about my love snow).
So next time you find yourself somewhere new, go ahead and try The Three Questions out, and maybe they’ll impact your life as much as they impacted mine. I mean, without these questions I would never of had That Clam Linguini at a small corner restaurant in Venice that threatened to end my friendship with one of the #threeidotstravel. Without these questions I may very well have lost my mind and murdered someone in Zagreb after an all-nighter in Berlin that left me violently hangry. The nice young man that worked at the hostel saved lives that day!! Without these questions, I would continue to be living in complete ignorance and not have my dreams haunted by the most perfect tonkatsu in the world. And if it were not for these questions, there are many cities around the world that I would not remember nearly as fondly as I do.
MY LOCAL LET DOWN
When I arrived at Hotel Myosen in Myoko Kogen we were well within the ‘dinner time’ range. I was hungry, but more than that I was excited. The #threeidoiotstravel had just been driven down the main strip in Akakura Onsen, and with all the lights glowing against the snow, I could feel so much potential in the air. So as soon as the whole ‘check in’ process was officially completed, and the bags were safely stashed in room 207, I practically skipped down the stairs back to the reception desk to launched into my gentle interrogation. It went a little something like this:
Me: Hey buddy, where should I eat tonight?
Myosen Staff: Um…. not sure. There are places up the road.
Me: Any place in town that’s a ‘must’ try?
Myosen Staff: I don’t really know. I don’t tend to eat out much.
Me: So……where do you eat when you do tend to eat out?
Myosen Staff: Oh, I’ve only tried this little joint right on the corner that serves ramen. It’s alright.
Me: What’s it called?
Myosen Staff: Oh shit, I’m not sure.
SNOW GODS DAMN IT! It was like pulling teeth with this guy. It’s not that they were being purposely vague or mean. No, it was nothing like that. It jus so happened that this local ambassador never really tapped into the local scene. It then came as a bit of a shock that he turned out to be one of the owners of the Hotel Myosen. It was a bit, if not a lot, disappointing that he hadn’t made the effort to get to know his town since moving there several months before. I mean, if they can’t get excited and enthused about their town, how are they going to convince you to become excited and enthused about the area? And if you never become excited and enthused about the wonders of their town, how do they expect you to ever choose to come back?
Anyway, I digress here. Basically, it was clear that my friends and I were on our own. We did alright, overall but in hindsight, we missed at least one place that seemed like it a ‘must try’. And so, to help you out if ever you find yourself in Akakura Onsen, here is my Food Scene Run Down:
1) RAMEN CHIYA
This is a no frills ramen house. Ramen Chiya operates out of a tiny free standing building near the middle of the main strip that runs through Akakura Onsen. There isn’t much by way of ambiance, just a few plastic laminated table tops and a countertop running along the side of the open kitchen where the two-man group work their magic.
The menu that is written out on the wall is basic; it features ramen (obviously), where you need order additional bits and bobs to build it to your liking. In addition to the ramen you will find a few of the usual suspects such as karaage chicken (aka Japanese fried chicken), gyoza (aka fried dumplings) and Asahi on tap. While I usually find Japan’s food-porn-game on point, the food at Ramen Chiya doesn’t aspire to look pretty, just taste good. Personally, I loved their broth as it was fatty and grungier than most others that I cam across in Japan where often flavours are clean and almost too mild; Ramen Chiya gave me depth and fattiness (which is usually what I crave after a hard day riding).
Fair warning: if you’re looking for a hot drink here, you won’t find anything other than the soup of your ramen. I made the mistake of ordering the oolong tea as I was desperately trying to avoid cold drinks from terrorising my soar throat. I regretted this play given the tea was cold, out of a bottle, and disgusting.
The ramen was good and that’s all the reasons why I would eat here again (after I hit up at least 2 other places). Overall I’d say 3 out of 5.
I had a basic ramen, oolong tea (which I did not drink), and split a bowl of karaage chicken. All up I was out of pocket ¥1,500.
Place your order with one of the guys when they swing by your table.
Given our local ambassador’s lack of practical research in to the Myoko Food Scene, I wasn’t sure I was going to even bother trying his one recommendation. However, then I thought, what if he has only tried the one restaurant because it is just that good, and he knew he had gotten it right on his first try. What if I missed out on the best meal of my life because I doubted the guy? Could I forgive myself if I later learnt I missed the perfect meal?
So on our second night in Akakura, we tried Mioshya, and it wasn’t the best meal of life, but neither did it disappoint.
Mioshya is a restaurant that serves your general Japanese fair. It’s a simple place with about seven four-seater tables that is neither a shit hole or fancy. The food was very affordable and quite delicious.
Would this be the first place I recommend you hit up? Probably not, but I would direct you to Mioshya if you’re a fan of tantan ramen which is a ramen served with mince pork and chilli oil (which just so happens to be my favorite kind of ramen). If you’re never tried tantan ramen, then don’t leave town without stopping by Mioshya because their’s was very respectable version. It was flavourful and spicy but not too much so that you sweat balls and curse every mouthful.
My friends ordered set menus of the chicken curry and walked away happy and full.
One of the nice little features of this place, was that they had little maps of the area fixed onto most of the tables. This gave us an opportunity to learn a few things about Akakura Onsen, like that there is a natural outdoor onsen.
Look out for Mioshya on the corner of the T-intersection, where it is the restaurant on the top floor.
Yes, i would go back if I’m craving ramen, which is the case on most days. Overall, I’d say 3.5 out of 5.
My tantan ramen was just ¥750. Other items included curry set menus for ¥1500.
Via vending machine, where you then take your ticket and drop it off at the counter.
3) HOT DOG TRUCK
Is there anywhere left that the hipster movement won’t infiltrate? Apparently not, because while I expect to find food trucks around the larger resorts such as Niseko and Hakuba, I didn’t expect to find one around Akakura Onsen.
Like all the best food trucks, this one has a very limited menu, serving only hot dogs and potatoes which you can ‘pimp out’ with your choice of cheese, onions, and pickles. Overall, the hot dog left me thinking this: maybe size doesn’t matter, but girth definitely does. The hot dog itself tasted alright even if it was oddly skinny which resulted in it being dominated by the onions that were served raw (and I really wished they been slightly caramelised).
If you do decide to get a hot dog, be sure to rug up, since it’s a food truck you’ll be eating it standing on the side of the road, most likely being snowed on.
I would skip this particular food truck if I’m ever in the area again. I’d rather spend an extra few hundred yen to get a truly satisfying meal….and an actual seat somewhere inside. Overall, I’d give this a 1.5 out 5.
There are better places to eat around town, but if you’re on a Budget this place is worth considering if you’re getting tired of the food sold at the convenient stores. I spent 500 on the hot dog, and lived large by adding cheese for an extra ¥50, and got the pickles and onions for free. If you’re a vegetarian, the potato is only ¥350.
No vending machines here, just walk up to the window and place your order.
4) LOVE SHOT BAR
This particular establishment isn’t so much a restaurant as it is a bar. It’s a good option if you’re not up for a big dinner, or if you’re just looking for a place to enjoy some drinks after dinner.
When I first saw the sign for Love Shot Bar, I thought I would never be caught dead going into a place with such a terrible name, because obviously such a tacky name would make the place tacky, right? Well, I’m not sure how it was that we decided to check it out, whether it was meant to be a joke, or if one of my friends was genuinely inspired by the name. Either way, I caught myself going in while still having a pulse, and you know what?? I loved it.
I can’t believe I’m writing this but, Love Shot Bar is an awesome little joint with comfortable dark little corners and booths that you can nestle into while sharing a few drinks with friends. I particularly enjoyed our dimly lit corner where I could stealthily spy on who walked in and who was sitting where through the cut outs in the wall.
The menu covers the basics, and features three signature drinks which panders to your inner tourist with names like Samurai, Ninja, and Kamikaze which are made with vodka, rum, and rice wine, respectively. Be sure to order a few of their bar snacks to go with your drinks which range from Edamame, Takoyaki (Octopus Balls) to Salami.
If I stayed longer, I dare say this would have been my local given the guys and girls working here were really friendly and laid back. Overall, I’d say 4 out of 5.
Well, no point recounting how much would have been spent here considering it really depends on how ‘thirsty’ you are feeling. Drinks tend to range from ¥700 to ¥900, and most of the food is ¥700.
Table service, just call our “su-me-masen” which means excuse me and someone will come along.
Fair Warning: This establishment is a tourist magnet in Akakura Onsen, and while it may not be cool to be a ‘tourist’ that’s what we are, given we sure as shit aren’t locals. And for what it’s worth, if I could only recommend one place for you to eat, Hunter would be it, because the food was great.
What sets Hunter apart from the other eateries that I tried in the area, was that in addition to serving delicious food they served it with a side of Ambience. That may be a weird thing to say, but it was something you’ll slowly notice lacking in many of the local establishments.
The only catch with Hunter is you got to be lucky to nail a table. My friends and I walked up around peak dinner time and were regretfully turned away, which is typical of Japanese hosts as they rather say there is nothing available then ever ask you to wait. And given I caught a few glimpses of some amazing looking suki yaki that I immediately was committed to eating, I said I would wait. (Usually when I offer to wait, it doesn’t seem to bother the hosts, but this time it seemed to cause the poor guy some stress because he couldn’t tell me exactly how long I would have to wait)
Anyway, I was eventually seated and my friends and I proceeded to order more than we should have because all the food looked amazing. And our money was not wasted because the food tasted amazing. Here we feasted on edamame, chicken yakitori with salt, an assortment of vegetables, prawn and fish tempura, and of course some of that suki yaki.
This is definitely one to go back to, and as I said, this would be the ‘one’ I would recommend to you. Overall, I’d give this place a 4 out of 5.
In total we set ourselves back somewhere between ¥2000 and ¥3000.
6) PARFAIT CREPE SHOP
Who doesn’t love a warm fresh crisp crepe filled with delicious sweet things and / or creamy cold ice cream? Not me and not any of the people that find themselves wandering through town, because how else do you explain why such a small town needs so many creperies???
This one in particular is tucked into a little ghetto man made cave along the main street across from yet another creperie. While a google search revealed it to be called Parfait Crepe Shop, I like to refer to it as Boo as that’s all I could make out of the name when you look at the place on google maps.
Rock up here after a hard days riding to get a boost of energy, or stop by if you are trying to while away time waiting for your dinner reservation…although, that may be a bit redundant given that you can get stuck waiting a while here too considering crepes are made one at a time and with great care and patience. And unfortunately for my friends and I, we got stuck behind a group of two families with oh-so-many kids each insisting on creating their own custom designed crepe.
Om nom nom nom nom. Why did I only have one? Overall, I’d give this place a 3.5 out of 5.
Mine was a modest ¥450 for some strawberries, creme and chocolate sauce, but the prices can jump as the crepes can become quite extravagant.
No vending machines here, just walk up to the window and place your order.
THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY
So those are all the places I got to try around the village of Akakura Onsen during my 4 days in Myoko Kogen.
And as for the ones that got away?
I would have loved to have tried Izakaya Kei which sits in the basement under Mioshya, if only because:
- it was the izakaya that we helped a very tipsy man hunt down after his hotel highly recommended it;
- they were complete full up through the night and my friends and I could never find a moment with an unoccupied table; and
- it smelt like smoky heaven inside.
Oh, and pretty much all the places listed on the two links below: