Kawakami-an Karuizawa: Unique Soba | CoolJapan

Just an hour away from Tokyo by JR’s Shinkansen, we arrived at Karuizawa (軽井沢) to be flabbergasted by the total absence of snow, except in the distant mountains, despite the season being in the dead of winter in January.

The entrance of Kawakami-an Karuizawa

Karuizawa is an upmarket mountain resort situated in the south-eastern part of Nagano Prefecture. Located at the foot of the active volcano Mount Asama, this small but quaint town is a haven for lovers of nature and the slow life, with an engaging array of seasonal activities — it’s a popular ski resort in winter — artisan art galleries and museums, and excellent cuisine.

Nagano Prefecture is renowned as a buckwheat growing region and is one of the top producers of this commodity in Japan, thriving on the rich volcanic soil in its highlands. The buckwheat is ground and mixed with the abundant fresh and clean spring water from the mountains to make soba, the reason why this ubiquitous noodle served here is so good.

(Left) The restaurant's facade. (Centre and right) Inside the restaurant

A highly recommended place to try Shinshu soba –– Shinshu is the traditional name for Nagano Prefecture — is Kawakami-an in Karuizawa town, but don’t expect a traditional mom-and-pop sobaya. This spacious eatery, while housed within a rather ancient-looking building, has been given a contemporary makeover replete with modern art and glass walls that afford street views while you dine to soothing jazz music. But make no mistake about it, Kawakami-an’s nihachi-style soba, made from two parts wheat flour and eight parts buckwheat flour coarsely ground to make textured and firm noodles, is undisputedly the star.

Ten Seiro and Tempura

(Left) Ten Seiro. (Centre) Vegetable Tempura. (Right) Oyster Tempura

One of its most popular items is the Ten Seiro served with chilled soba noodles, dipping sauce and assorted tempura comprising two large shrimps and seasonal vegetables. The shrimps were succulent and the tempura batter airy and non-greasy at all. The special of the day was the Tempura Oyster Soba, a surprisingly generous set with five good-sized pieces of plump and juicy oysters that went particularly well with the al dente soba in a hot tasty broth.

(Left and centre) Roasted Wild Duck. (Right) Agedashi Tofu

From the side orders, the Roasted Wild Duck was delectably tender with just the right tinge of gaminess, while the simple Agedashi Tofu was ambrosia — soft bean curd engulfed in a crisp coat of batter immersed in a flavoursome broth topped with sweet daikon and spiced with a dollop of grated ginger; I wax lyrical as I'm a fan of all things tofu. Don’t miss this delightful gem if you are in Karuizawa. It makes for a great lunch spot, and you can work off your meal with a stroll through the charming old town just a few minutes’ walk away. Kawakami-an has another outlet a short drive away at the Harunire Terrace located within the compounds of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa resort, as well as two branches in Tokyo.

  1. 1.Kawakami-an
  2. 2.HOSHINOYA Karuizawa
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