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Food of Japan: Learn and Enjoy

HIRASANSOU since 1959

Time-Honored Shops - Japan’s Hidden Treasures by Mr. Shoku-iku, Yukio Hattori Series

May 01, 2016

Another highlight of the “Ayu Tabe” menu is the rice course. An explosion of flavor, it's steamed with stock made from dry-cured sweetfish caught on their downstream journey last autumn, as well as the whole young catch of early summer.

text by Michiko Watanabe / photographs by Harry Nakanishi / English text by Susan Rogers Chikuba

Now, as we head into June, the menu at Hirasansou is all about ayu. Young sweetfish are caught as they travel up the Ado River and other waterways in the region. At Hirasansou, an exquisite mountain lodge on a historical trade route linking Kyoto with Fukui, they are salt-grilled and served whole in their “Ayu Tabe” multicourse meal, prepared for me recently by owner Takeji Ito.

Unparalleled Mountain Feasts

The first thing I need to share with your readers is that the dish “Moon and Suppon” Hattori-san enjoyed is not part of our official menu. When he visited us the other day, we had just received a delivery of suppon softshell turtles from Lake Biwa. With that stock we made a miniature hot pot with bear meat culled from deep in the mountains last winter. This is Asian black bear, also known as “Moon Bear” for the crescent-shaped marking on its chest. We dubbed this impromptu dish “Moon and Suppon,” and we’re thrilled you enjoyed it so much, Hattori-san!

The “Moon and Suppon” hot pot made for Yukio Hattori featured the meats of collagen-rich softshell turtle and bear—a combination that would enchant anyone.

We opened for business in 1959 as a mountain lodge for people hiking the Hira-san range northeast of Kyoto. We’re close to both Jishu Shrine and Myouou Temple, one of the sacred sites along the old Mount Hiei pilgrimage route affiliated with the Tendai sect of Buddhism.

My father began the restaurant side of our business, mostly in response to customers’ requests for local seasonal delicacies like ayu sweetfish in the summer, matsutake mushrooms in the fall, bear in the winter, and wild mountain vegetables in the spring.

Clear spring water flows past the Hirasansou lodge, which presides on a quiet lane enveloped by hills.

A custom-made table and chairs were added for those unable to sit comfortably on tatami mats; the room has become so popular that more table seating has since been added.


Now, as we head into June, our menu is all about ayu. Young sweetfish are caught as they travel up the Ado River and other waterways in the region. We salt-grill them and serve them whole in our “Ayu Tabe” multicourse meal, which has been a great hit, drawing people here from far and wide. It’s a wonderful time to visit the area, as everything is alive with a fresh covering of green. The fish are small in size, so it’s no trouble to eat as many as ten or so in one meal. Other specialties at different times of the year include eel from Lake Biwa, venison, and wild boar. Chilled carp sashimi and miso soup with softshell turtle are two year-round favorites. With stellar ingredients like these, we don’t need to do much of anything fancy in the kitchen. We focus on the f lavors and present it all simply, without fuss.

Third-generation owner Takeji Ito serves these signature dishes himself.


Although the winter months are far away, our “Tsuki” hot pot of bear meat and leeks is something we urge everyone to try. Earthy, clean, and savory, bear has no strong odor and no off taste-it’s the purest of meats, in my opinion. But before that, we hope to see you this summer, for sweetfish!

Lovers of ayu sweetfish travel to Hirasansou from across Japan as soon as the season opens. The “Ayu Tabe” multicourse feast presents this local delicacy salt-grilled, in three separate rounds. Fragrant smoke from dried bamboo leaves whets the appetite.



◎HIRASANSOU
94 Katsuragawa Bomuracho, Otsu-shi, Shiga
☎077-599-2058
Seatings from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., by reservation only.
Bookings for overnight stays accepted for five parties daily 
Forty minutes by car from central Kyoto
http://www.hirasansou.com/

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