Located in the mountainous Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is a gateway to spectacular natural sights in Central Japan. The Northern Japanese Alps are popular for hiking in warmer seasons, with destinations such as Kamikochi boasting sublime mountain scenery. It is also a good base from which to reach the magical UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-gō. Some visitors make Takayama a day trip, but I would suggest spending a day or two to wander about this charming small city. You can discover the quaint historic district of Sanmachi-Suji and some quirky museums. For foodies, the splendid food scene of Takayama is reason enough to make this city a destination. Its location in the mountain range affords its beautiful scenery, and also clear mountain water. As the local saying goes, where there is good water, there is good rice. Where there is good rice, there is good sake. Also, the cattle raised on the water and grass here are known to produce high-quality dairy products and meat.
Beef lovers would already know that Kobe city is the place to go for famous Kobe beef. But Takayama is another great place to enjoy premium wagyu. Here, Hida beef comes from a breed of Japanese black-haired cattle raised in Gifu prefecture. It is melt-in-your-mouth soft, with intense marbling and flavour. Some people even consider it better than Kobe beef! Eating Hida beef in Takayama is not the cheapest, but having tried Hida beef at both street food stalls and gourmet restaurants, I can tell you that it sure is worth it!
A local specialty of Takayama is Hida beef Sushi where you can enjoy a slice of premium beef prepared in a uniquely Japanese style. What you get is a slice of beef laid atop rice, lightly glazed with soy sauce and topped with a tiny pearl of wasabi. They have also come up with the brilliant idea to serve this delicacy on an edible senbei cracker! Delicious and convenient. You can choose the type of beef you want- lean meat, medium fatty meat or premium fatty meat, with the price going up with the fat level.
Please also try some Hida beef Skewers which is served in small bite-sized cubes. The beef is grilled to give it a little smokey flavour. The cubes of beef are juicy and soft, and without any heavy sauce or seasoning, the natural flavour of the beef came through very well.
You can also enjoy Hida beef in a steak rice bowl at a local restaurant. A set meal generally consists of a perfectly seared juicy steak on rice, a side of vegetables, pickles and miso soup. If your wallet permits, you can, of course, choose to enjoy even more premium fatty cuts of beef.
With so many regional varieties of ramen all over Japan, it never gets old, there is always a new regional variety of ramen to taste! In Takayama ramen, the broth is clear like shoyu (soy sauce) base soups, but deeper in colour and flavour. Also, they use springy wavy noodles. A very simple but comforting dish. Jostling with the locals. I managed to snag a seat at a cosy 12-seater local eatery, joining them in slurping down the delicious noodle and broth.
Another good place to eat noodles would be at Le Midi’s ramen shop. Le Midi dishes up novel renditions of beef noodles which are greatly enjoyable. They offer beef ramen with a lightly flavoured and slightly peppery soup. It is served with all the usual trappings of ramen such as onsen egg, bamboo shoots, and seaweed. Another type of beef noodle they serve is heavier in flavour, with beef slices, and a savoury spicy gravy. These noodles were thicker than ramen, and chewy with bite to it. There are many other varieties of noodles to choose from, so please go ahead and try them all!
Also worth checking out in Takayama is the Miyagawa Morning market. You can buy plenty of local products, handicrafts, and of course street snacks! There are delicious snacks like Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake with sweet filling) and takoyaki for breakfast. Nothing beats a freshly made hot snack on a cold morning!
Along Sanmachi-suji is a row of sake breweries, as the climatic conditions of Takayama make it perfect for Sake brewing. It is very cold during winter, which is important for reducing the growth of unwanted natural yeasts that can affect the brewing process. The mountain water is also wonderfully pure, which produces high-quality rice that is a main ingredient of sake. At many of the sake breweries, guests can sample different sake varieties for a small fee, a fun cultural experience even for those unfamiliar with sake.
Takayama may be a small town, but it certainly has a very rich food culture. Foodies simply must make a trip here to experience the best of local Takayama produce!
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