Snowflakes, Sake & Very Crunchy Sparrows

A snowy drive to a friend’s sake brewery followed by lunch in a wild foods restaurant in deepest Gifu prefecture. Mountain time. Take a look.

Fascinated by sake stats. Thanks to my generous friend Kozaemon san the gang got the lowdown on the ins and outs of making (and er drinking..) sake.

Stirrers.

Sake Kasu (lees)  above  – great for winter hotpots and as one tour member discovered – pickle making!

Tasting time – just a few of Kozaemon’s rocking sake varieties.

And let’s not forget the best Ume (plum) sake ever….

Then onto lunch at a nearby Robatayakiya or flame grill restaurant. While Yanagiya is highly renowned in Japan for its mountain bounty –  some of the foods here could be considered a little challenging for those not used to trying more exotic foods. Actually I’m underplaying it a little. This place was challenging even for me – and I’m used to eating pretty much anything on offer in Japan. I’ll try any edible substance at least once but the one thing, I’ve learnt over time, that does not work for me is eating whole birds (in this case sparrows), bones, beak, guts and all and munching all the hard bits until they are fine enough to swallow without puncturing a lung. And that can take some time.  Kudos to all the members of the Zenbu Ryori group who managed to eat at least one small bird! The deer was great, the duckling perfectly respectable (wild as we know has a lot more texture and gamey flavour then farmed) and the grilled bear… well bareable. Just. It was insanely chewy but the fat, apparently the best part, was sweet and nutty.

WARNING! – please look away if you of the queasy variety

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Last chance…

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Splayed sparrows (suzume) and Can Can ducklings

And if you had any doubts about the freshness of our web-footed friends…

A little bee larvae to snack on whilst waiting. Simmered in soy and mirin. Tasty treats. I believe these are from the local (very, very scary) giant bees who need their stingers removed before eating them. The bees themselves are steeped in Shochu – a local tonic, keeps you “strong” apparently. Not a drop was drunk on this trip but I’ve tasted it on a previous jaunt to Gifu and it is, as you might imagine, a honey-flavoured nectar. In Japan bees and their larvae are not commonly eaten outside the mountain areas.

 Getting a little colour up…

Just about ready…

Sparrow eating instruction. All in one. A local delicacy.

 This is more like it… wild venison  – Shika

 A variety of shika cuts

 Into the glaze then briefly back over the flames…

 Oh yeah…

 Now for something completely different… bear meat

 Fresh wasabi root was an excellent accompaniment to the rich meats

 While the grilled bear didn’t completely float my boat the slow simmered bear nabe (hotpot) with local miso and leeks was a winner.

And our hosts were super charming. This really was an incredible experience, sitting around a fire pit in a private room (on bear skin rugs no less) as the chef cooks for you, eating certain foods for the first (and possibly only) time and hearing tales of mountain life whilst enjoying excellent sake with new found friends is nothing to sneeze at.  Below mama san watches the bear-pot intently as it simmers to perfection then serves up lovingly before bringing fruit and tea to end with.

We were a messy bunch… glad I wasn’t on washing up duty. How wonderful is this room. I want it in my house please. One day.

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