Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ota – Yamashinobu

Kurokawa is a lot less touristy than Yufuin so there isn’t much by way of a town centre although the attraction here is a ryokan pass which allows buyers to soak from ryokan to ryokan. Not quite my scene but there are hard core soakers who don’t mind disrobing layers of layers of clothes in the dead of winter to experience the medicinal benefits of the different onsens. This clever idea concocted by the ryokan owners created the local onsen industry in Kurokawa.

Scenic drives

En route up Mount Aso
The drive from Yufuin to Kurokawa is a short one and allows time for a detour to Mount Aso, where you can enjoy picturesque views from about 1000 meters high. If you can see beyond the clouds that is! Bad weather meant we passed on the ropeway since any further elevation didn’t mean increased visibility. Plus, it was just biting cold. Ok, so not the best season to travel..

Katsu Curry
But enroute was where I had my best Katsu curry experience ever where we made the proprietress read the specials out. This standalone eatery in the middle of Aso city was worth the drive in itself.

Welcome drink - tea and red been mochi
So we beat a hasty retreat to our ryokan for the night.

Yamashinobu is a little more rustic than our ryokan in Yufuin but had its own little charm about it.  It is technically not in Kurokawa but the larger Minamioguni-machi town (within the neighboring onsen area called Ota) and only a 5 minute drive from the center of Kurokawa. There was even a wood fire burning in one of the rooms where folks can gather round to get warm over hot sake.

Dinner here was Kaiseki style, with starters presented in lovely lacquer boxes.

Horse meat sashimi or Basashi (a specialty of the Kumamoto prefecture) is on offer here. Unlike beef, horse is a little more sinewy so you have to chew a little longer for the flavors to come through since it is a little more subtle in taste.

We did have sukiyaki again although the beef here was a little less marbled and therefore required a little more chew than in Yufuin. Still good though.

Chicken soup for the soul
But my favorite was the chicken soup with home made (ryokan made) chicken balls. The clear consommé belied a flavor that was rich with all the goodness of what a chicken stock should taste like and was just downright comfort food, especially since I had been sick from the beginning of the trip, and still sniffling as I wrote this.

And the soba, another specialty of the region, so al dente and full of flavor from the very appetizing grated radish that was laced with Yuzu, garlic and a little chili. Wow.

Tomato custard
Dessert was an unusual tomato custard. It sounds a little funky but actually works probably because the local tomatoes have a distinct sweetness to them that does not leave that tomato fishy finish we expect.

While this was not the best ryokan dinner I’ve had, it is memorable for the effective use of local ingredients and produce and a creative menu that was filling yet un-heavy.

Riceball service
So hospitality includes a riceball service at 9pm lest you go hungry at night.

A true champ's breakfast
Breakfast here was more traditional and included a much fuller meal.

Assorted pickles
The highlights were the array of pickles on offer so we were a little surprised this wasn't at dinner since in our experience, the best pickles usually came with dinner. Notwithstanding, all good and we were all set to hit the road back to Fukuoka, but not without stopping at the Tosu premium outlets first!

5960 Manganji
Kumamoto Prefecture 869-2402


  1. That breakfast spread rivals the best I had in Morocco. Good lord, you must be stuffed to the brim!

    1. Stuffed but in a good way!! Eat like a king in Japan not just for breakfast!

  2. Such a wonderful account of your food adventures. Do you mind sharing with us the address of that amazing katsu curry u had????

    1. I wish I could but my regret is my lack of directional skills and I did forget to take a card in my haste. The good news is that there is so little in that street in Aso that it will not be hard locating it. Good luck!