Following on from Part 1 of our Japanese Odyssey - Hakuba offers up a terrific choice of eateries. While it is becoming more accommodating to western palates over time, there are still places where you can go and have very traditional Japanese food. It is excellent value too.
We were able to test out the local Sushi place, which was a stunning, small room run by a very accommodating hostess/chef and her offsider (who was on his first time working a full season). We had fresh sushi that brought us all closer to becoming shintoists.
Right next door was the best Okonomiyaki place in town. The young proprietor (A whippet of a man) ran the whole show, from meet/greet, order taking, drinks maker, chef, waitperson and dishwasher. And he did it seemingly with ease. It was mesmerising to watch, and his food was brilliant! The surprise of the evening was when we discovered that the 'meowing' sound was not from the TV, but actually from his new kittens under a sheet in a big pen at the back of the room. So very Japanese.
We had ramen at possibly the warmest room in town (it was positively boiling hot inside), as it was so full of gaijin slurping down bowls of miso and soy based broth, floating with the best noodles and pork pieces you could wish for, and the heating turned to 'oblivion' to assist the Aussies with acclimatising to the Simpson Desert. It was hot, fast and ultimately satisfying. Not to mention uber cheap. No, really. Hakuba, if you stay out of the 'popular area' just below Happo One lift access, is incredibly good value.
There was an outstanding meal had at another 'Traditional Japanese' teriyaki style house, with great Tempura vegies to blow you away, and the smoky goodness of the shichirin subtly permeating every non-vegetarian morsel we ate.
We veered off course on one occasion and scored a very quick seating at the Korean BBQ place, which also didn't let us down in the food department.
There was another outstanding Ramen experience to be had at Iwatake for lunch,
secreted away in a wooden shack separated from the ski fields, this place is where the godfather of ramen resides in the kitchen. Looking like something from the 'Boogie Nights' extras credits, he was mystical, silent and relentless. We waited 10 minutes outside in the snow for this, and 5 more inside the front door, but it was worth every moment and I would do it again tomorrow. Just for those sexy noodles.
If you find yourself at 47/Goryu, then head over to Goryu, go up the main chair on the front ski area and halfway up look to your left. In this odd hybrid of steel and glass construction, now embellished with timber and barn like structures, you will find the most unique eating experience in any ski field. You are sitting in what can best be described as the hand-made living room of someones house. There's a type of wood stove that has been altered into a dragon-like final form. There are big speakers all around and a lot of serious mixing decks, which made me feel like I had stumbled into the mountain hide-out where Deadmou5 comes to mix up his next batch of mind-
altering tunes. Out the back there is a Duesenberg (google it). No kidding. In the middle of the living room area, surrounded by big, ageing punched leather couches. A Duesenberg. Outside under the awning were two late 60's convertible Ford Mustangs, original and awaiting restoration. Don't forget we are halfway up a mountain here and completely snowed in. These things wont get down the hill until June. The Pork Tonkatsu Ramen was not of this earth. Amazing. Lovely people (all looked about 65, which meant they were probably closer to 85). Cheap and cheerful.
There were some 'non-traditional' excursions in the culinary travels too: The best (and biggest) burgers in town are at 'Sounds Like' cafe... sweet room filled with uber hip young things all chugging down lattes (yes, real coffee, real good), listening to the latest XX track running out of the speakers like treacle, and watching berserk freestylers throw themselves down the abyss on the big screen. I was at peace.
The strangest lunch experience goes to the giant, tudor-like hotel at Cortina... as virtually the only main answer to your hunger pangs in the place, you will do battle against the entire hotel population plus all the visitors, inside a disney-like landscape of tudor-inspired, castle-like fantasy... and have to side step the table hostess, to find a place for a coffee. Don't worry, there is a secret weapon here - the "Help Desk" attendant. Camp as a row of tents and willing to throw himself into the path of a rampaging Japanese table hostess (aka - The Gatekeeper) so we could enjoy 'Espresso'. It was like a movie scene. He got there in the end. We got our seats, and quickly had napkins, water glasses, menus and three staff ready to go... we just wanted three double-shot espressos... So we did that. And left.
New on the scene is probably the last thing you would expect, but strangely enough welcome... The Hakuba Pizza place. Owned and run by an Aussie from Victoria, his team of exuberant ex-pats and local snow rats were none the less exceptionally congenial. Most helpful and very, very tolerant of our inability to choose... And even though I vowed not to do this while in Japan... I did. And it wasn't just 'good'... it was great! After a really long day, driving back from Cortina, tired and super soft from the onsen, it was a very simple solution to a need. It was delicious and hot and made an indelible impression in the whole Hakuba experience. It was going to happen sooner or later, so if it had to happen, then I'm glad it is a good experience and one where an Aussie is enhancing the destination, not detracting from it.
On the other end of the spectrum in stark contrast is the more minimal experience of 'Singapore'. A dumpling inspired restaurant that feels stark in contrast to the busy little Japanese joints, with plain walls, plenty of space to hang your jacket, fire-red chairs and exposed beams. It's worth a visit too.
There are many more restaurants in the Hakuba area, with every hotel boasting the 'best food in Hakuba' on their front door, which I'm sure is true, from a certain point of view. But it is when you get to speak with the locals and find out where they go, that you get the bonus deal from Hakuba.
Don't put it off. If you have been thinking about it, it is time to do it. More to come so stay tuned.
Cheers - T