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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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the menu
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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.

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“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

 

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roasted stuff pumpkin

Lewis & Carroll Tea x Trimeats: Revolutionary Oatmeal Dining and Tea Tasting Experience

I wasn’t a fan of oatmeal until I tried overnight oats from Trimeats purchased at the food bazaar. Announcing their first anniversary on Instagram, they collaborated with Lewis & Carroll Artisanal Tea to launch a Pop-Up Brunch event last year in October at Lewis & Carroll in South Jakarta.

Trimeats is an oatmeal-based food manufacturer, producing multiple flavours of overnight oats (my favourite ones are Blueberry Cheesecake and Black Forest, among others), cray oats or healthy Indonesian fried rice, granola and healthy bread.

On the other hand, Lewis and Carroll is a tea house offering over 20 artisanal tea blends. Apart from that, the tea house also serves Indonesian, Western food, some light bites and desserts.

lewis & carroll tea house interior
lewis & carroll interior

The collaboration ended up with three-course menus. Future guests were required to inform the chosen appetizer, main course and dessert prior to the d-day:

  • Appetizer: Mango Kale Açai Bowl or Cheesy Potskinz
  • Main Course: Roasted Stuff Pumpkin or Hainan Chicken Oats
  • Dessert: Fudgy Cacao Brownies with Peanut Butter Nana Ice Cream or Matcha Panna Cotta

Although I was open to another possibility that fancy names and tempting descriptions (the latter will be revealed afterwards) are not always in line with great quality, I got a good feeling about the Brunch and I knew that this kind of collaboration may not come twice.

So, I didn’t think twice to book the spot (which was required to do) in advance and to pay the 25% down payment (of the Brunch value of Rp. 200.000 ($20)) each to confirm the booking. I asked my friend to accompany me to the culinary event.

A HATTER’S TEA PARTY IS THE MUSE

When I heard “Lewis & Carroll”, I instantly relate it with the author of Alice in Wonderland by eliminating the “&” symbol.

sets of teapot arranged in rainbow colours lewis & carroll
sets of teapot arranged in rainbow colours

Inside the tea house’s modern, clean cut interior with a very spacious dining room, it tells me that Mad Hatter’s tea party that Alice attended is their main inspiration, shown by the presence of colours on teapots and cups arranged in rainbow colours, representing Hatter’s eccentric look and behaviour. Elaborating the unconventional character of Hatter, Lewis & Carroll displayed assorted tea leaves inside test tubes and cups to challenge guests with new experience of tasting artisanal tea blends.

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test tubes and cups filled with assorted tea leaves with strip papers mentioning the name of each blend

As mentioned in the book’s (and the movie’s) story line, The Hatter has a tea party everyday. It’s more than just a coincidence that the tagline of Lewis & Carroll is “It’s Always Tea Time.”

APPETIZER

Lewis & Carroll’s elevated tea time experience by serving three-course tea drinks, from appetizer, main course until dessert. It was not mentioned previously that we would get all of them in the package. Unlike the three-course meals, we couldn’t choose the tea flavours ourselves. But still, what a pleasant surprise.

The waiter passed us a teapot set for two and a test tube filled with tea leaves to give a free smell experience of the tea we were about to drink to accompany our appetizer. A significant refreshing tangerine smell with hints of spices boosted my appetite.

teapots lewis & carroll tea
appetizer tea

Being a mixed fruit juice lover, I made the right decision to have Mango Kale Açai Bowl definitely presented by Trimeats, an açai smoothie with mango, kale, bananas and black quinoa cereal, as my appetizer. The dominant taste of mango and some notes of banana for thicker smoothie texture defined its natural sweetness. The crunchy quinoa cereal was an additional sensation of the meal.

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Mango Kale Acai Bowl

My friend chose Cheesy Potskinz, baked potato skin stuffed with cheese, broccoli topped with salmon bacon and avocado cream. It sounded very tempting, for sure, and I initially wanted that too. But I decided to choose a healthier option. Unless informed, hardly did anyone can tell that there was broccoli since it was turned into a creamy sauce on top of the potato skin and the bacon was from salmon. A notable taste of cheddar and creamy taste of avocado on the side made the meal enjoyable.

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Cheesy Potskinz

MAIN COURSE

If you think oatmeal is only for breakfast and milk is its only soulmate, think again. At first, Trimeats broke that stereotype by creating cray oats, so-called healthy Indonesian fried rice, by replacing the rice with oatmeal and served in a jar. It has become a hit ever since, and they did another breakthrough with Hainan chicken oats on the Brunch.

Just like cray oats, they alternated the savoury rice with oatmeal. It was as tasty as the beloved Hainan chicken rice, except the flaky grain I chewed reminded me that I wasn’t consuming rice in that moment. The only “complaint” for the dish was that the Hainan rice oats portion was too little and a bit unbalanced with that of the steamed chicken.

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Hainan Chicken Oats

I envied my friend’s Roasted Stuffed Pumpkin and I wish the menu had pictures besides descriptions, although it doesn’t mean I regret my own choice. It was the most attractive food presentation of the day and perhaps, I’ve ever seen.

The roasted pumpkin became an edible bowl accommodating cilantro lime oats in it. The savoury oats were zesty and since I’m a fan of cilantro, I think its notable taste spiced up the oats flavour. The mild taste of roasted pumpkin created a perfect balance to neutralize the zesty flavour a bit. Another interesting fact was that the red stars on the plate were actually cranberry tomato sauce, but I didn’t manage to taste it.

roasted stuff pumpkin
Roasted Stuffed Pumpkin

Furthermore, the organizer picked my Roasted Stuffed Pumpkin picture as the winner of Best Picture of the day on Instagram food photography contest. As a reward, I received a purple teapot set whose appearance was like the previous “appetizer tea” image above.

Furthermore, the fruity taste of Iced Rooibos Tea for the main course tea drink was very refreshing! I completely forgot taking a picture of it because I was thirsty.

DESSERT

We finally had something in common. We both chose Fudgy Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Nana Ice Cream as the dessert, especially I don’t have a fond of panna cotta. The brownies was not to sweet with a significant taste of cocoa and the crunchiness on its surface was just right. The peanut butter ice cream wasn’t Skippy-ish at all. I think the creamy and milky taste took over most of the real peanut butter taste. I was happy about it since I’ve never been a fan of peanut butter since forever.

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The dessert tea was served in a lovely Japanese style teapot set, which are also sold for souvenirs. A mild taste of white tea succeeded to clean the remaining sweetness from out mouth, without washing away the “sweet memory” of the meal itself.

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IT DOESN’T COME TWICE

And that’s not it. We also received a goodie bag, containing a jar of Trimeats’ Cray Oats and two flavours of Lewis and Carroll tea blends packed in a gift box. For the price of $20 each, it was really worth it.

When I said this kind of collaboration may not come twice, I was right. This month, it marks a second anniversary of Trimeats and they do a different type of collaboration to celebrate. In a consumer’s point of view, I personally would rather join the Brunch.

japanese teapot
Japanese teapot for souvenir