Hida beef, she the beef, we the beef!
Howdy folks! We had a great time today wandering the streets of Takayama, checking out all craft shops, food stalls and sake breweries in the old part of town. This alpine township is built along the banks of the Miya-gawa (translation = Miya River), which is very shallow at the moment but no doubt swells in spring when all the snow melts in the higher mountains (we are at about 700m altitude here, not quite in the mountains proper, but definitely in the foothills). We started our day at around 7:00am with a walk through the local markets, set-up along the banks of the Miya-gawa. Like all good local markets this one had lots of farmers selling fruit and vegetables, as well as a whole lot of home-made pickles (Japanese people must LOVE their pickles – I have never seen so many varieties of pickles!) and dried fishy things (e.g. giant desiccated squid in vacuum sealed bags, smoked fresh-water fish). Generally the fruit and veggies were quite cheap, at least compared to what we’ve seen in shops in the bigger cities. We bought ourselves some breakfast snacks (fruity ones,not fishy or pickled ones), and continued on to the old part of Takayama.
The oldest part of town here has been preserved as it was in the 1800’s – narrow streets lined with dark, wooden-fronted shops and workshops. This area is known as the Shinoninomachi-Ojiinmachi Traditional Buildings Preservation Area and is Takayama’s main attraction. It was here that we spent most of our day, marvelling at the wood carvings, lacquered wood and pottery being made and sold, and tasting samples of all sorts of weird and wonderful traditional Japanese cakes and snacks. We even got the chance to check out a traditional sake brewery! My favourite snack of the day was a GIANT rice cracker – they make them by hand here in Takayama, in hundreds of different flavours (e.g. cheese, chilli, anchovy, squid, seaweed, or sweet ones covered in sugar), and in sizes ranging from fingernail size to the giant one I took a fancy to that was at least 30cm in diameter. That’s one big rice cracker! Nom, nom, nom… Forget the Cookie Monster, I want to be the Rice Cracker Monster!
With lunch pretty much covered by snacks and samples, we decided to continue on to Shiroyama Forest Park, built up on the hill behind the main part of town. This is a very pretty park, but compared to the wilds of the Kiso Valley, also very tame. No bears or snakes or monkeys or anything! Just bugs – lots and lots of mushi. Highlight of the walk was when we found some wild strawberries – so much tastier than the hydroponic ones we get at home!
The walk through Shiroyama Forest Park was only 3 kms,well below our usual 10-15 kms/day, so we continued on and did the Higashiyama Historical Walking Trail. This trail winds through the Higashiyama part of town, where there are no fewer than a 13 temples to admire. The temples were on a much smaller scale to those we saw in Kyoto, but were in some ways better, maybe specifically because they weren’t too big or ostentatious. All in all a very pleasant day.
Our dinner efforts were pretty epic: we decided to shout ourselves to an uber-extravagant meal of Hida beef. This beef is a speciality of the Hida region, of which Takayama is the capital. Basically it’s super-marbled beef with enough fat laced through it to guarantee your cholesterol will go up a point after just one meal. This stuff makes wagyu beef look healthy and lean! In a country where having enough land available to farm cows is virtually impossible, Japanese beef is notoriously costly; and Hida beef is prohibitively expensive! As you can see from the sign below, Hida beef can cost from as little as 11,000 Yen (about $110 AUD) per kg for the “lower grades”, right up to 21,000 Yen (about $210 AUD) per kg for the highest grades of meat with the best marbling. We did it and it was AWESOME. You definitely couldn’t eat much of it due to the cost and the sheer fat content, but in wafer-thin slivers, sizzling hot, it was amazing. Shane had the “man version”: a 250 g steak, sliced and grilled; I had a taste but found it was just too much in such large chunks. The texture of it, with all that fat through the meat, was just too much for me. Just goes to show, you can have too much of a good thing! But hey, how often are we going to get the chance to try world famous Hida beef? It just had to be done!