One of the highlights of a stay at a top Japanese ryokan is the elaborate dinner that is included in the package. An overnight experience usually includes dinner and breakfast. Many of the best ryokan are famous for their food, and this is usually served over three hours or so in the privacy of the suite.
ONE OF THE OLDEST RYOKAN IN JAPAN
Asaba Onsen in Shizuoka Prefecture is a luxury hot springs ryokan. This traditional Japanese inn is one of the most historic and picturesque in Japan. For one thing, it is 500 years old.
For much of this time, Asaba was offering lodgings to travelers in the same location. Also, it is among the loveliest ryokan. It has a lagoon within the property along with beautiful gardens and an ancient Noh theater,
THE MENU AT ASABA ONSEN
From most of the rooms, guests can see this traditional Noh theater while they are enjoying dinner. Asaba serves a country-style kaiseki meal rather than a formal Kyoto kaiseki meal. The ryokan chefs serve eight to ten courses, each described in advance in a menu worthy of an artwork.
MOUNT FUJI ON A PLATE
The kaiseki dinner always starts with the Japanese version of an amuse bouche accompanied by a shot of local sake. It’s usually something warm and pretty that you eat in one bite. On this stay, the room attendant poured sake into a shallow cup — it was basically a small plate — with an image of Mount Fuji. This was especially nice as Asaba Onsen is quite near Mount Fuji.
DIFFERENT KIND OF ASSORTED SASHIMI
After this comes a procession of courses, all presented artistically so that you will feel like taking a dozen photos for your Instagram account before each one. Dinner always includes a plate sashimi. On our second night at Asaba, we had a most unique sashimi plate consisting of white fish and fish liver. Our attendant advised us to eat a little bit of everything all at once.
Next, ryokan guests usually get a delicate soup and a stew of vegetables or seafood. This is followed by something fried and a main course of grilled fish or meat.
The rice dish always comes at the end of a traditional Japanese meal. At Asaba, which is a Relais & Chateaux hotel, the attendant always brings rice flavoured with a seasonal ingredient. For example, in the summer, the chefs usually cook rice with a river fish called ayu that Japanese love. In the spring, guests enjoy rice flavoured with clams.
DESSERT AT A RYOKAN
Afterwards, guests can choose between several desserts. My personal favorite is Asaba’s version of the blanc mange. It is one of the most delicious blanc mange I have ever had. On this visit, I actually ordered the blanc mange two nights in a row.
Very uncharacteristically for a traditional Japanese ryokan, Asaba serves ice cream to finish the meal. They don’t give you the usual flavours either. On our first night, we actually had a green pepper ice cream. Then, the next night, I had the most unique ice cream flavour I have ever encountered. The chefs created ice cream flavoured from black rice. It was peppered by crunchy kernels of black rice too. It was absolutely delicious, and the perfect way to end a wonderful evening at Asaba Ryokan.
Christine Cunanan, Travelife Magazine publisher, is visiting some of the best hotels in Japan over the next three months. She is also opening a luxury villa/ boutique hotel/ private villa rental just 35 minutes from Granada in the beautiful Lecrin Valley. Follow her adventures in Travelife Magazine.