Konno Chokubai Center – Delicious Simplicity

 

We’ve already written on this blog about Hota-waka Go-zen, Rikuzentakata’s new signature cuisine that showcases the delicious local scallops of Hirota Bay, but that is far from the only way to enjoy scallops in Rikuzentakata.

For something a little more classic and traditional, one could stop by Konno Chokubai Center in the Otomo district, a popular lunchtime spot among the locals. The menu is small, but specialization leads to perfection, and every item on the menu reflects the bounty of fresh seafood available in Rikuzentakata.

Konno Chokubai Cener’s signature dish is Iso Ramen, a local variety of the well-known Japanese noodle soup, which adds a giant scallop and multiple varieties of fresh, local seaweed to a simple salt-based soup broth. Scallop-lovers can also order huge scallops grilled in the shell (either a la carte or as a set meal with rice and miso soup), or hotate-don, which consists of scallops in a sweet-salty sauce and egg over rice.

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Iso Ramen – ¥600
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Grilled Giant Scallop – ¥400

The “chokubai” in the restaurant’s name means “direct sale” and it refers to the fact that the scallops are caught and sold, “ocean to table,” directly from the source. Not only does that make them delicious, it also helps keep the costs low. And with the freshness, the taste, and the price, it’s no wonder that the locals keep coming back for more.

Rikuzentakata, un luogo inaspettato

Ho avuto l’occasione di visitare Rikuzentakata nel corso della mia ricerca sulla ripresa dei territori colpiti dallo tsunami. La città è stata duramente danneggiata dal disastro. Ciononostante è un luogo molto vivo, dove i cittadini si stanno dando molto da fare per ricostruire il loro territorio e la loro comunità. Tra le cose speciali che si possono fare a Rikuzentakata, c’è sicuramente quella di sperimentare un delizioso menù a base di frutti di mare locali. In particolare, nella zona si producono votate (capesante) e wakame (un tipo di alga). I ristoratori locali hanno messo a punto un menù comune, è quindi possibile magiare in posti diversi per provare le differenze.

La città di Rikuzentakata è divenuta famosa, dopo il disastro del 2011, per il suo “pino miracoloso”, l’unico ad essere rimasto in piedi dopo essere stato in balia dello tsunami. L’albero faceva parte di una pineta centenaria che è andata completamente distrutta, ma che si sta cercando il modo di ripiantare. Al momento l’area è al centro di lavori di ricostruzione, ma il pino, che è stato messo in sicurezza per garantirne la preservazione, è visibile. Il pino è diventato ben presto il simbolo della forza di resistenza di questa città e per questo si è deciso di trasformarlo in un monumento, realizzando un’opera di conservazione grazie all’uso della tecnologia. L’albero infatti, non avrebbe resistito naturalmente alle infiltrazioni di sale dovute subite durante il disastro.

Ma Rikuzentakata non è solo mare. Sulle colline intorno alla città ci sono altrettanti luoghi meravigliosi. Uno di questi è il Fumonji, un tempio buddista che è un luogo magico e affascinante, custode della tradizione locale e diventato, dopo il disastro, anche il luogo dove riposano molte delle vittime di quel terribile evento. Nel bellissimo bosco antistante il tempio, sono state disposte le statue dei rakan. Rakan è la parola giapponese che indica gli illuminati che hanno raggiunto il nirvana nella religione buddista. In molti templi buddisti se ne trovano 500. Seguendo questa tradizione, il Fumonji, ha creato un’iniziativa che ha visto gli stessi abitanti di Rikuzentakata scolpire le statue come tributo ai concittadini che hanno perso la vita durante lo tsunami. Il workshop di arte terapia, viene organizzato due volte all’anno finché il numero di 500 non sarà raggiunto. Quest’anno ho partecipato anche io, insieme ad alcuni amici, al laboratorio e ora anche il mio rakan veglia su questa terra alle pendici di un cedro centenario. Mi piace molto l’idea di aver costruito, attraverso di lui, un legame eterno con questa terra bellissima.

Flavia Fulco – Roma

Kesen-cha, a local tea with that personal touch

Once a month, Riku Cafe offers a tea tasting experience, where visitors can taste a selection of local teas served in a Taiwanese style for ¥300. In addition to the tea, the visitors also receive knowledge and conversation from Chikako Maeda, a former government worker and Takata local who decided to devote her life to tea. After leaving her job at the prefectural office in Morioka, she spent three years in total (two in Taiwan, one in China) studying all aspects of tea craft, from planting and harvesting to roasting and brewing.

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This month, there were four teas available for tasting, and Maeda-san went through them one by one, explaining everything as she went. First, there was a cold-brewed green tea, refreshing and fragrant. Then came a traditional green tea, one that was lightly roasted (called hi-ire), and then a black tea. All four teas were made using the same leaf (locally grown Kesen-cha), however different treating processes led them to have wildly different flavor profiles and tasting experiences.

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The Taiwanese style of tea tasting involves pouring the tea into the taller vessel on the right, and then immediately pouring it into the sipping vessel on the left. The vessel on the right is then held to the nose and sniffed to allow the taster to inhale the scent of the tea without burning their fingers. Finally, the tea is tasted from the sipping vessel on the left. It’s a unique and well-conceived tasting experiences that allow the taster go fully savor both the taste and the fragrance of the fresh-brewed tea.

More Than Just a Tourist

Have you ever stayed at a hotel or inn, ate at a restaurant, shopped in a gift shop, and felt like you were at home or at a very close friend’s house? These were some of my most memorable experiences during my week-long visit to Rikuzentakata. (Among many others, of course.)  Everywhere you went, no matter how long you were at each establishment, the staff and/or owners would follow you out the door and wave good-bye to you as you left the parking lot.

The first night in the city was at Capital Hotel 1000. We came in on our tour bus and checked in. It was a beautiful hotel; the Japanese version of a Marriott. The rooms were western in design. After that first night, the majority of our stay was at Minshuku Numataya, a ryokan inn. The tatami matted rooms came with a sink with bathrooms and communal baths down the hall. I greatly appreciated the cultural immersion of the stay in this inn. At the end of our stay in the Minshuku Numataya, we even got hugs from the owner, which I have heard is a very rare occurrence. And, of course, they came out to the parking lot with us and waved good-bye. The last night in Rikuzentakata, we were back at the Capital Hotel 1000.  But the waves good-bye were not lost on the formality of the establishment.

Among other things we ate out many times and visited several gift shops, and at each place, you guessed it, we got waves good-bye. I think with all of those good-byes, I definitely need to come back and say, “Hello!” again!

-Sonya Fugate, Crescent City, CA

Shoyu Ice Cream – the best thing you never knew you wanted

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Shoyu (soy sauce) probably isn’t the first thing you think of when it comes to ice cream flavors. It’s probably not even in the top hundred things.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be delicous.

The shoyu ice cream sold at Yagisawa Shoten, right next to the site of the Miracle Pine in Rikuzentakata City, is of the soft serve variety, smooth and creamy and swired into an icy tower. At first lick, it tastes of sweet vanilla with a tinge of saltiness. At second lick, the shoyu flavor begins to develop, and the flavors become more complex. By third lick, you’re in love. The earthy saltiness of the shoyu is perfectly balanced by the icy sweetness of the vanilla ice cream, and one could consider it a Japanese twist on the salted caramel.  It’s not just delicious; it’s addicting.

Other than ice cream, Yagisawa Shoten sells souvenirs (omiyage) and other treats mostly made by local businesses from local ingredients. They have a wide selection of shoyu made in Rikuzentakata, as well as sausages, salad dressing, sweets, and more.

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Whether to get a once-in-a-lifetime taste of shoyu ice cream, or to pick up some souviners to give to friends and family back home, Yagisawa Shoten is a must-stop for anyone who comes to Rikuzentakata.