Nagano and traditional Shinano cuisine
Zenkoji Temple is the heart and soul of Nagano City. It is one of the most important and popular temples in Japan. It was founded in the 7th century and stores the first Buddhist statue ever to be brought into Japan when Buddhism was first introduced in the 6th century. Similar to the towns developed around castles, there are towns in Japan developed around the large temples or shrines. Called monzen-machi “temple towns”, they developed during the Edo Period, when pilgrimage became popular in Japan and were originally created to cater for pilgrims: restaurants, inns, local product stores. In Nagano, this is also the case along Daimon-cho. Lining the stone paved streets are storehouses and merchant houses “machiya” reminiscent of the romantic Taisho era.
Zenkoji Monzensaryo Yayoiza (503,Daimon-cho,Nagano,380-0841)
Here, is where we experienced traditional heritage Nagano/Shinano cuisine. Situated in a remodeled 160-year old ‘machiya’ townhouse, Yayoiza serves Nagano’s heritage cuisine using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients including ‘Shojin’ Buddhist vegetarian meals exemplary of Zenkoji Temple. We were told that the restaurant used to be shop selling tatami mats and it was built after the Zenkoji earthquake in 1847. The “machiya” townhouses are unique with high ceilings, thick beams.
Yayoiza emphasizes on using Shinshu ingredients incorporating as many seasonal ingredients into their menu. Although serving traditional cuisine, the food here is creative and has clean flavours. According to Kumiko san, the landlady, the delicious food is healthy and made according to Shinshu traditions reminiscent of the Yayoi Era.
teamed dishes using wood framed trays made of Sawara Cypress from the Kiso Valley.
The pancake-like ‘usu-yaki’ made with soba (buckwheat flour) and seasoned with miso is Yayoiza’s signature dish.
I was in awe when the dishes were served one after another. Beautifully presented, clean in flavours. Deep rooted in tradition yet so wonderfully creative.
This was indeed a wonderful Nagano experience, enjoying comfort foods traditionally eaten during the Yayoi Era. I really hoped to be back again someday to say hello and possibly learn how to cook from Kumiko san’s chef. Wishing her well in her dedication to traditional cultural cuisine of Nagano!