Yukiguni and the Best Rice in Japan
I had the opportunity to join a tour in Yuzawa where I experienced making two traditional Japanese dishes: Sushi and chawanmushi. - What is that? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you very soon. On the second part of the tour, we visited the second oldest sake brewery of Niigata Prefecture. It was incredibly informative and tasty! In less than an hour from Niigata City, I went from a seaside, snowless city to the mountainous countryside of the Yukiguni (snow country). The fresh air and the deep snow muffling all the sounds are things you appreciate instantly when you arrive from a big city. No wonder why many Tokyoites choose to make the 1 hour 15 minute bullet train ride to Yuzawa and ski their worries away. All this snow becomes even more amazing when you realize that it’s the source of the crystal clear water that helps Niigata grow what is widely considered the best rice in Japan. This rice in turn is what is used to make great sushi and world famous sake.
A Sushi and Chawanmushi-Making Tour
After meeting with our guide, we headed to a nearby sushi restaurant. There, the staff and the Taishou (the sushi master) gave us a warm welcome. He started by showing us how to make the chawanmushi. This is a traditional dish that I encountered many times in Japan, especially at ryokans. It literally means “tea cup steam” and is an egg custard dish with various ingredients. The chef prepared boiled shrimps, shiitake, bamboo shoots, chicken, herbs and yellow beans for ours. It was quite simple and fun to make our own. Next, we tackled the sushi. The Taishou made it look effortless while explaining each movement in English. When it was our turn, we found out it was more challenging than it looked and that good sushi chefs are truly masters of their craft. Nonetheless, we managed to make decent nigiri and an assortment of sushi. Eating our creations certainly brought a smile to everyone’s face.
Shirataki Shuzou, the Second Oldest Sake Brewery in Japan
With our bellies full, it was time for the sake brewery visit. Shirataki shuzou is a 160-year-old brewery well known for their high quality, easy-to-drink sake. They can process up to 3000kg of Niigata rice in a day. When combined with the pristine local water and their great expertise, you get an absolutely amazing product. We had the pleasure to be shown around by Ms. Miyauchi. She was able to demystify the rather complex process with great explanations and demonstrations. She even let us taste a new sparkling sake that will be launched next month. After learning so much, we were ready to taste their flagship bottles. It’s amazing all the subtle flavours you can notice once you know what to focus on. I can honestly say that this tour helped me bring my appreciation of Japan’s best sake (Niigata sake, of course) to an even higher level. Whether coming to Yuzawa for a traditional ryokan-type experience or for a luxury ski trip at the Naspa resort, I think everyone should take this tour and witness the artisans of Yukiguni at work. Not only will you gain a greater understanding for two of the most iconic Japanese products but you will also have the opportunity to share the passion and the warmth of the people who devoted their lives to their craft.