I enjoyed the few days of modern isolationism that the Kiso valley villages afforded me to have, with little to do besides walk a trail and find some lunch. I could sit besides the river and stare at the clouds, I could perch myself under the cherry trees and allow the sakura to fall upon me as I watched those poor folk with cameras in hand attempt to capture every experience they could rather than to enjoy the moment. I could watch the same people slip into, and in turn out of, the few shops in town selling what looked like locally made handicrafts made from bamboo and wood.
I watched with a light envy as they ate something from one of the few places that sold ready to eat items to take away. Few people seemed to even have enough time to sit down in one of the very few restaurants, all of which seem to sell soba noodles.
When I finally decided to have lunch I liked the sound of the sansai soba the most from the four hot and four cold options.
The sansei noodles are buckwheat noodles with wild grasses served hot in a broth, it turns out the wild grasses are a few fern fronds and the broth is very similar to other warm soba dishes I have tried, that is to say with a lightly sweet broth with hints of kombu and bonito, the noodles themselves are toothsome and tasty and the broth surprisingly satisfying in spite of it’s simplicity. Perhaps my favourite part of this restaurant experience was the introduction to Gohei Mochi a delightfully delicious toasted glutinous rice stick glazed with a walnut, sesame and soy paste., I found them so incredibly satisfying, with their chewy texture unlike the smooth mocha, the individual rice grains toasting in an incredibly flavoursome way. I became mildly obsessed and had as many of these as my appetites would allow, lucky for me these tasty rice snacks popped up again and again in the Kiso valley, in both the guesthouses and the ready to eat stalls.
Of the ready to eat foods I ate in the Kiso valley I liked the old guy selling the browned steamed buns the most, he had quite the character about him, the stall was busy and the buns had very interesting flavours I enjoyed the light crunch of the walnut bun and was glad the sweet nut paste filling wasn’t entirely smooth. I found the eggplant bun a little astringent and too heavy with soy, tasty but certainly it warranted something sweet to have after it.
The fresh red bean filled pancake and the chestnut flavoured ice cream certainly filled that brief, the ice cream in particular was much better than I ever expected it to be, with the chestnuts sugar steeped and caramelised.