Tranquility: Hakone’s Green Landscapes and Nature-Rich Cuisine Part I - Morning Food Adventures
From the time that samurai existed through to today, Hakone has been a destination to soothe one’s body and soul | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
For centuries, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture has been a destination for people to relax and enjoy its famous onsens (natural hot springs). Just over an hour away from Tokyo, it’s an easy getaway from the city and has numerous activities to enjoy including hiking, art museums, traditional craft-making and all its delicious local food.
Early Monday morning, I hopped on the Limited Express Romancecar to take the comfortable 73 minute train ride from Shinjuku station to Hakone-Yumoto station. The reserved-seating Romancecar comes frequently (roughly every 20 minutes) and a ticket can be easily purchased at the station or booked in advance online (English available). There is also an exclusive observation Romancecar (Train Code: VSE and GSE) with a spectacular view.
Romancecar reservations: https://www.odakyu.jp/english/romancecar/
Romancecar GSE that has an exclusive view | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Hakone-Yumoto station is surrounded by a beautiful green forest with a shopping arcade out front. Most shops open at 9am, just as I was embarking on my journey.
A luxurious and polished look makes the 73 minute ride much more comfortable than the daily commute | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
MURAKAMI: UMEBOSHI (PICKLED PLUM)
A lady greeted me from a store with a European-style, brick exterior and a green rectangular nameboard: “村上梅干し店 (Murakami Umeboshi Shop)”. Inside the shop, piles of umeboshi (sour pickled plums) neatly lined the open case refrigerators. Umeboshi brings back fond memories of my obaachan (grandmother) who made the juiciest, sourest umeboshi.
The Murakami family moved to Hakone 75 years ago and sells umeboshi made from ume (Japanese sour plums) that are grown in Japan and combined with salt, with no artificial additives. Because the ingredients are very simple, the level of sodium is key in creating the different types of umeboshi. There are also varieties made by adding shiso (a Japanese herb related to the mint family) or even chili flakes.
Murakami’s special collection of umeboshi neatly lined up in rows | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
The kind shop owner allowed me to try their chili umeboshi and their 18% sodium umeboshi. The bright umeboshi soaked in juicy red chili flakes was surprisingly sweet with a hint of piquant juice while the 18% sodium umeboshi, which the owner said was the best and most traditional in his shop, reminded me of my obaachan's sour umeboshi.
The soroban (abacus) Murakami has been using for 80 years | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Murakami’s owner with his radiant smile gazing at his umeboshi family business | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Address: 702 Yumoto, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0311
TOKUZOMARU: AWABI (ABALONE) SKEWERS
Butter-shoyu is a fusion of a western essential ingredient, butter, and a Japanese one, soy sauce. Combined they are the perfect match, elevating any grilled or sautéed dish.
I happened to pass by Tokuzomaru, a seafood specialty shop, and immediately decided to order the awabi (abalone) skewer displayed on the menu board. Awabi is a palm-sized shellfish that is often served at ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) and is considered to be a delicacy in Japan.
Tokuzomaru’s selection of grilled skewers | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
The shop lady asked me if I wanted my awabi steamed or grilled with butter-shoyu. I chose grilled, immediately picturing the perfect pairing of melted butter caramelized with soy sauce, as the shop lady carefully handed me a perfect shiny golden brown awabi on a long skewer. The rich butter and salty soy sauce slowly spread in my mouth as I chewed on the juicy awabi. I had to discipline myself to eat slowly or I knew I would be in line purchasing five more!
Tokuzomaru’s grilled butter-shoyu awabi | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Address: 703 Yumoto, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0311
CHIMOTO: YUMOCHI (RICE CONFECTIONERY) AND MATCHA TEA
Chimoto is a cozy cafe with a traditional yet modern feel. On the menu are different types of Japanese snacks and sweets and a selection of Japanese teas. The pairing of sweets and teas is a reflection on life which can be both sweet and bitter.
The entrance to the peaceful Chimoto cafe | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
I ordered yumochi, which is one of Kanagawa’s renowned confections made of mochi (glutinous rice flour), and freshly made warm matcha (green tea). The yumochi was wrapped in a triangular bamboo sheath and a strip of paper with Japanese calligraphy. I carefully opened the bamboo wrapping and out peeked the soft, delicate rice cake. I could smell the fragrant Japanese citrus, yuzu, as I took my first bite, followed by the taste of the sweet jellied yokan (Japanese red bean paste) filling.
Chimoto’s fluffy yumochi wrapped in a bamboo sheath with freshly-made matcha on the side | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Chimoto is well known for their yumochi, but their freshly made matcha should also not be missed. The froth was creamy without being heavy and each sip was the perfect blend of bitter and sweet richness.
Chimoto’s soft and delicate yumochi | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Address: 690 Yumoto, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0311
HAGINO: TOFU SHOP
Hagino’s tofu making tools | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
The Hagino Tofu Shop began selling tofu two hundred years ago, not too far from the Haya River in Hakone-Yumoto. They use 100% domestic soy and spring water from Yusaka Mountain.
I ordered the tamadare tofu and nama-age (fried tofu). The tamadare tofu comes with a thick, salty yet sweet, soy-based syrup that compliments the firm yet creamy tofu. Despite the fried tofu being served cold, instead of warm like at home, the firm juicy outer fried layer blended tremendously well with the soft tofu inside.
Hagino’s tamadare and nama-age tofu | MARY HIRATA MCJILTON
Address: 607 Yumoto, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0311
Born and raised in Japan, Mary Hirata McJilton is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. While earning her degree in Global Studies and a minor in Political Science, she worked at a Japanese restaurant, was actively involved in a Japanese student group that hosted Japanese food events, and interned at Slow Food Minnesota. These experiences nurtured her curiosity around food culture and sustainability. With characteristic serendipity, she spontaneously meets new people wherever life takes her, expanding her repertoire of original Mary-stories that she loves to share over meals. In her downtime, she enjoys cooking with herbs and vegetables that she grows herself on her cozy balcony, and refreshing the Italian she learned from a stint studying abroad.