Taste Of Nagano

When it came to starting her days, my mum loved nothing more than a thickly sliced bread, toasted, buttered lovingly and jam being spread, corner to corner.
While I would have liked to eat Japanese style breakfast of rice, grilled fish & miso soup any morning, mum was adamant that her breakfast had to be consisted of toast, coffee, a small bowl of salad and a large bowl of yoghurt.
Since she was a kingpin of the house, there was no point in arguing with her.

A jar of jam in the fridge went soon empty because it had to be spread over one extra toast. So I bought a new jar at St.Cousair, Daimon…

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St.Cousair is a winery and farm located in Iizuna, a beautiful field only 30 minutes drive from Zenkō-ji. Their products, wines, jams and bottles of dressing & sauce are available through their outlets all over Japan. And they have one outlet right by the Zenkō-ji entrance.

Upon my visit, I found the shop teeming with shoppers and tourists picking up treats and souvenirs for home…

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I loved their jams because they were free from added sugar. We found their blackberry jam and pear jam especially tasty…

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Opposite St.Cousair, there was a noodle bar specialised in Soba – noodles made from buckwheat flour…

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It is alleged that Soba in the form of noodles – Soba-kiri (そば切り) was originated in Nagano. The oldest written record of the cuisine is from the 16th century. However, the history is believed to stretch back beyond the 15th century, being served to samurai warriors during the Sengoku Jidai – the Warring States period. As noodles became a popular way of consuming this hardy dark-grey grain, soba, it gradually became known as Shinano Soba or Shinshu Soba – “Shinano” & “Shinshu” are old names of Nagano…

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The balance between buckwheat flour and plain wheat flour affects the taste and texture of the noodle greatly. Ni-hachi (二八, two-eight) soba, consists of two parts of wheat flour and eight of buckwheat; Juwari (十割, 100%) soba, the finest (and usually most expensive) variety, consists entirely of buckwheat. With more wheat flour blended, the colour of soba noodle appears paler and the texture becomes smoother. However, 100% buckwheat one is more flavoursome. As a child I did not like Juwari because the string was thicker and felt coarse when it was chewed. But as I grew older, I started to appreciate more distinctive aroma of Juwari soba and in the end, became a huge fan. It’s funny, isn’t it?

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Soba is eaten hot or cold throughout the year. However, the most popular time to slurp it is on New Year’s Eve as Toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦), year-crossing noodle. This custom, typically the noodle is eaten as a part of late dinner, is believed to have started around the 17th century. There are a few theories regarding the origin of the custom. The most popular one is that a long strand of soba noodles symbolizes a long life and also buckwheat plant being well-known for its hardiness in a harsh climate, Soba represents strength and resiliency.

If any of you ever have a chance to visit Nagano, how about taking home a box of refined taste of Nagano as a gift? Soba or jam, both of them are wholesome and very good for you!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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