shirakawago

Ochudo Restaurant: Tasting Home Cooking in Shirakawa-go Heritage House

A GLIMPSE OF SHIRAKAWA-GO

Shirakawa-go lies in the mountains of the north western part of Gifu Prefecture, central Japan, that takes one hour from Takayama city. Ogimachi Village, the largest village in Shirakawa-go, is known for the thatched roof farmhouses resembling a Buddhist monk hand in prayer called gassho-zukuri. Since 1995, Shirakawa-go has been listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Once secluded and unknown among foreigners, Shirakawa-go has become one of the most popular attractions in Japan. The gassho-zukuri farmhouses, mostly built in 1800, are not only nice to see from the outside, but also function as souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, and even guesthouses. However, Shirakawa-go is still a residential area, since other farmhouses remain a place to stay for local people. Therefore, it is very necessary for visitors to respect the tranquility of the area and no trespassing in private houses.

WHAT’S IN A LOVELY FARMHOUSE WITH CUCUMBER VINES

shirakawago

There are over 25 restaurants and cafes listed on the map of Shirakawa-go if you have enough patience to find which one suits your taste. How I chose Ochudo Cafe Restaurant, that I only found out its name in the end of my visit, as a place to eat was truly by coincidence.

I spotted another gassho style farmhouse that got my attention because of the lovely terrace and hanging cucumber vines on the thatched roof like a necklace on someone’s neck. I really thought that it’s a private resident until I saw a tourist sitting on the long chair in front of the house.

shirakawago

shirakawago

Moreover, there were frames placed under the roof mentioning “Coffee”, “Tea”, the menu written in both Japanese and English, an “Open” wall hanging wooden sign and some Japanese inscriptions I couldn’t read.

shirakawago

To be honest, it didn’t offer many choices of meal I expected, most probably because the main concept is a cafe rather than a restaurant. It offers coffee, tea, cafe latte, citron juice, orange juice, toast bread, curry rice and sweet red bean soup or zenzai. Wait! Curry rice sounded like a great choice. I’ve tried Japanese curry before, yet I hadn’t tasted it in Japan during my visit, so why not?

shirakawago

Entering the farmhouse, I noticed that it has experienced some modifications. The shoe rack spot is replaced by stairs to go down to the main dining room, so there’s no need to take off your shoes to enter the restaurant. I was happy that I didn’t have to untie my shoes to get in.

shirakawago

The traditional sunken hearth kitchen or an open fireplace called irori is transformed into a table, surrounded by benches instead of sitting on the flat pillows on the floor, where customers still can witness the traditional way of boiling water and cooking food in more comfortable way.

shirakawago

I looked up to the ceiling and it’s surprisingly see-through, inner side of the construction was visible, including that of the thatched roof.

shirakawago

The pantry is dominated by collections of (English style) tea cups and their matching saucers kept neatly arranged in the shelves, where the rest of the cups were hung on the wooden lease of the pantry together with the lanterns. What’s so cool about the hanging cups is that customers who order tea and coffee can choose one of them for their drinks. Creating a memorable customer experience doesn’t have to be complicated.

shirakawago

shirakawago

Another thing I like about the interior is how they use leftover spaces and personal belongings to deliver homey atmosphere inside a commercial place by displaying children’s drawings, family pictures, a table lamp, toys and again, tea cups. Functioning unused chairs into tables by placing tablecloths on the seats is also a great idea.

Was I entering my relative’s home or a restaurant? Good question.

SERVICE EXCELLENCE: WHEN SPEED, QUALITY AND HOSPITALITY MERGE HARMONIOUSLY

Accommodating about 20 to 30 people maximum, the dining area is not that big. No wonder why it quickly became full, especially at lunch time. Only 20 minutes later did I get my seat after two Caucasian ladies left their spot. But it doesn’t mean that it was not busy any longer.

A couple in their 50’s ran all the operational activities, that I assume the owners (let’s call them uncle and auntie), who kept going back and forth serving customers, from taking orders until bringing food and drinks to them. I was curious whether there was any chef helping them in the kitchen, but I didn’t see anyone appearing from there. Honestly, I admit that the uncle and auntie had a quick response, amazing speed and agility for their age.

shirakawago
dining room

The uncle greeted me, passing me the artsy handmade menu on the table. Having a shape like a palette paint made of thick cardboard, it was covered with pumpkin orange colour recycled paper and the menu list was written by hand on both sides. Lovely!

I instantly ordered curry with rice (¥ 900 or about $ 8), but not the set menu that comes with sweet red bean soup (¥ 1300 or about $ 12) because red bean is not really my favorite, although it’s one of the best sellers in Ochudo.

menu
the menu
shirakawago
I spotted another hanging tea cup spot close to my seat

My curry rice came with a sliced pumpkin and some beans, red ginger as a side dish and a glass of water, that usually served for free in any restaurants in Japan. I previously thought that I would get a chicken curry rice, therefore I didn’t expect that it would be a vegetarian dish, but that’s okay.

Even though I’m more a fan of Indian and Thai curry, I also like a Japanese version of curry with a tendency of sweet taste rather than emphasizing strong spices. Compared to the one I once had in a big restaurant chain, my sense of taste could tell that the curry sauce at Ochudo was purely home cooking with fresher ingredients, so it was just tasted better and nothing fabricated. Or perhaps I was just I carried away with the homey surroundings inside the heritage house.

japanese curry

What makes it more special was the rice, gosh I loved it lots! Instead of using regular steamed rice, the curry was served with zakkokumai, rice with mixed seeds and grains, giving purplish colour on the rice. It had al dente texture, subtle sweetness with earthy taste, that completely blended well with the curry. The only thing I didn’t touch was the red ginger, simply because I don’t like ginger at all.

The uncle started a small talk with me when he cleared up my table, asking how the food was. I frankly said it was great and really liked the rice. I wanted to know what he put in the rice besides azuki or red bean, but he only said, “It’s made with many beans.” Most probably because either he didn’t have much time to explain or his English was too limited to elaborate the answer.

I said to myself that it could have been better if there was more content in the curry sauce itself. But it wasn’t a big deal at all.

shirakawago

“Where do you come from?”  He asked me again.

I replied, “Indonesia.”

“Oww… Indonesia. They also come from Indonesia.” He pointed a group of six sitting across my table, who originally came from Surabaya, East Java.

Knowing that I was travelling alone, he passed me a book to read about Shirakawa-go to accompany me. On top right of the book, I saw hand-written Japanese characters with Latin letters right below it mentioning, “Ochudo.” It was the moment I realized that the cafe restaurant name was Ochudo since I didn’t look at the map at all.

I was touched by the uncle’s hospitality and sensitivity despite language barrier and  limited time in peak hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to communicate with the auntie since she was at the pantry all the time, but I believe she was a nice woman, too.

Overall, I had a great time and great meal, giving me more energy to continue strolling around the village. Anytime you visit Shirakawa-go, make sure you take your time dining at Ochudo Cafe Restaurant when hunger strike.

Ochudo Cafe Restaurant

792 Ogimachi, Shirakawa, Ono District, Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Phone: +81 90-5458-0418

Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm

 

Advertisements

10 am at Historia Food and Bar

I have to say, unless I had my appointment at the Immigration Office of West Jakarta in the morning, I would not have got a chance, not even a thought, to have my both feet on the cobblestone of Fatahillah Square in Jakarta Old Town, known as Kota Tua, when the area was still far from street artists and vendors.

I slowly walked towards the nearly 400-year-old town hall, now functioning as Jakarta History Museum so-called Fatahillah Museum, that stood gracefully and peacefully without crowds passing by and blocking the view. Apparently, I was the only one crossing the square, enjoying the free space all by myself and refreshing breeze after the rain.

Nonetheless, when I was almost reached the museum, I turned away, heading to the alley on the right side next to it. A neo-classic building that has been turning into a cafe restaurant I had been longing to visit, called Historia Food and Bar.

Long before becoming a cafe restaurant, it was the office of Maatschappij voor Uitvoer en Comisiehandel (MUCH), a Dutch trading company during the colonization era built in 1914 by Eduard Cuypers n Hulswit architecture firm. It consists of 2 buildings separated by a courtyard, that now belongs to Indonesian Trading Company (PPI).

Historia Food and Bar occupies the lower level of the building facing Pintu Besar Utara Street, situated behind the main building facing Kali Besar Timur Street. The 2-storey rear building had different functions in the past. The lower level was a spice warehouse and a shop-house. The upper level was small offices with archive rooms, also once occupied by another company called NV. Borneo Sumatra Handelmaatschappij, shortened as Borsumij. The latter, unfortunately, is not accessible for public.

historia entrance

Prolonged neglection and continuous demolition of abandoned antique buildings into budget-oriented (aka tasteless) design shop-houses cause the rarity of commercial centers inside historical buildings in Jakarta compared to other big cities like Rome, Paris, Tokyo, St. Petersburg etc.

So I’m glad to find that the former Dutch warehouse is well-treated and turned into cozy place to hang out like Historia Food and Bar. It’s also good to know that Cafe Batavia is not the only most-preserved historical building turned to be an F&B business location in the area.

There were tables placed upside down on other tables outside the building as if it was still closed, until an errand convinced me otherwise, at 10 am.

20160304_102600 copy

I was surrounded by (just a lucky guess), a Dutch general and a lady, local peasants, heroes, and civilians living hundreds of years before my grandparents were born, who perpetually inhabit the brick walls inside the cafe. They illustrate historical events and the life of people in Batavia before it changes its name into Jakarta. Partly-coloured fresco accentuate a modern touch in the tempo doeloe (old days) theme. The significant amount of monochromatic characters remind me of comic strips.

Apparently, they are the limelight of everything inside Historia after food and drinks, where rustic canned canisters and an antique phone on the cabinet facing the giant fresco are completely overlooked.

20160304_103230 copy

A few people in black outfits were in the bar area, while some others were in the dining area ready to greet and serve customers. Basically, they all were doing some last checks in the fist minutes of the operational hour.

I heard a woman saying in the outdoor area at back side of the restaurant, “You shouldn’t place this here. Put it aside!” I don’t recall what she meant by this and here, but for sure it was part of the inspections.

20160304_103120 copy

Then, she walked in to the dining area where the bar area was located, the non-smoking section where I was sitting and observing the morning ritual. She was somewhere in her 50’s (coincidentally?) wearing a black outfit. In the mean time, she passed and looked at me for a few seconds. Soon after, she left me in privacy and believed that I had been taken care of.

20160304_102641 copy.jpg

There was no one else placing their asses on the chairs but me, nor watching the black outfit people doing their routines. In a nutshell, I was the first guest of the day.

There were assorted Indonesian food offered in a relatively affordable price and I was actually tempted to taste one. But too bad, I wasn’t into big meals at the moment. Still, I think I had to take something since the waiter had earlier assisted me to my seat, meaning that I already gave them hope to contribute their income.

20160304_102950 copy

I looked at the drink list instead and asked the waiter what the best seller is. He suggested Merah Merona, which literally means “blushing”, a smoothie with pink dragon fruit, banana and fresh milk. It sounded like a deliciously healthy concoction to consume in the morning. Additionally, I requested to have the simple syrup, a fancy gastronomy term for liquid sugar, separated.

20160304_103527 copy

The smoothie was really worth it as it deserves to be labeled “best seller”, with a decent price of Rp.35.000, or about $3. I was glad that the banana doesn’t overpower the sweet subtle dragon fruit flavour, while the milk harmonizes both fruits having different level and character of sweetness.

I thanked the barista who created the lovely blushing smoothie that energized me to start my day. So I had to leave for work after finishing the final zip with a kind of gargling sound from the straw. Nevertheless, I will return someday to try the food and that’s a promise!

 

Hidden Vintage: La Vie en Rose

Living or staying in a city or country for long time is not a guarantee that you’ve seen or known everything. Sometimes you just walk straight home or rush to school or office, unconsciously blocking your sensitivity on things around you. You know all the shortcuts to reach places you frequently visit. Everything you see seems so banal that you may find yourself wondering why on earth tourists are so into red-bricked buildings in Amsterdam while basically they are just everywhere in Holland and look all the same (not entirely true, though). Been there, done that, so what?

I revisited Amsterdam last year. The city where I used to live hasn’t changed that much apart from some shops and restaurants are closed and replaced by other huge retail chain stores. I still remember all main streets I passed those days. However, you can call me a big fat liar if I say I know all the streets in Amsterdam.

The best way to know what’s in Amsterdam is to pass all the alleys and dare to get lost in between. My former schoolmate and I wandered on streets of Amsterdam and their alleys on Sunday afternoon on foot. Thank God it wasn’t raining. After hours for walking, we felt like sitting somewhere in any cafe nearby.

Traiterie Chef was the closest one we could find. Lots of cakes on its vitrine, variety of fresh juices, tea and coffee? That would do just fine. The interior was nothing special, until we came to the first floor. Scroll more, please!

Pink rules, from walls, curtains to wallpapers. The effort of rich Victorian vintage details exhibited is magnificent for a small dining area.

Put your babies in the bed to make sure the won’t screw up displayed goods.

You can zip a cup of coffee here, too!

Assorted frames and pictures in one place.

A black candle and its saucer that reminds me of Mad Hatter’s hat.

The main dining table that lets you mingle with other guests.

Not everything displayed is really old, but they are so lovely. I can’t stand not to have them…..

A very cute detail…a white mouse doll? Sweet….

I’m not sure what it’s for. I guess it’s a small cupboard to keep room keysP1160343 copy

Such a homey feeling

P1160355 copy

It’s not just a display. It’s actually a brush to clean the tables.

You might say you’re at a granny’s house or an artsy lady with her antiquities. You might say that it’s a vintage museum that makes you feel like home. Whatever you think, let me get this straight: coming to this café means you’re not in the café!

My gosh, how come I didn’t know about this place after 7 years in Amsterdam? Again, I repeat: call me a big fat liar if I say I know all the streets in Amsterdam. Suppose you visit the city, I recommend you to drop by and don’t forget to taste the delicious carrot cake.

I wonder why they don’t apply the awesome vintage interior on the ground floor as well. It’s one of the selling points they should expose, isn’t it?

——————————————————————————————————————

EUROMAP

EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, that’s what it’s made for!