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!
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.
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.
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!