The small, nondescript building set deep in the snow, a bit off the road, could easily be overlooked. But stop and take a closer look. The name: Tori Hana Yuki, loosely translated as “bird, flower, snow” gives a hint of the poetry found within in the food served.
Inside, there is no fancy furnishing. Concrete floors, wooden tables and no-nonsense heaters. The token bits of decor seem like a half-hearted afterthought, unimportant. The menu is on wooden plaques on the wall. This is stripped bare, no need for embellishment – the food speaks for itself.
We take a table right at the back, across from two big guys in track suits wolfing down their noodles. They barely give us a second glance. The food must be good. We order and wait.
And then it comes:
Perched on top of a bowl of steaming hot noodles in rich broth, is a veritable nest of tempura vegetables, twisted and fried and sculpted into art. The tenpura is crackling, crisp. Accompanied by silky onsen tamago which slides down the throat smoothly, this is a meal that hits the spot – particularly on a bright cold winter’s day.
In Japanese food, the presentation is as important as taste. I don’t know if the people in the kitchen intentionally slave over every presentation detail or not, but somehow the food always looks so pretty when it is served. In the most refined kaiseki meals I’ve had in ryokans and even in a humble roadside eatery such as this, I find this to be true.
For 800yen, I get to admire the prettiness of the yasai ten soba before slurping every last strand of noodle down. Prices in the joint run between 450yen to 1100yen. Richard, stuck to his carnivore roots and opted for a gyu soba. Equally good, but I have to say, not as pretty.
The menu is simple. Soba is the house specialty. We are told that the yasai ten soba is the star, drawing reviews and features on television and in the press. The soba is handmade right here by Mr Hideo Ito, the unassuming owner and chef and his wife, for the past 12 years. He says simply: “We live in harmony with the soba.”Okay I don’t know about the zen-ness of that comment, but the taste was pretty darn good.
If you’re ever in the Jozankei neighbourhood, drop by the Tori Hana Yuki for a taste of soba and you’ll wish you lived in harmony with that everyday too.