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The nature and plentiful snowfall that characterizes the Shinetsu Shizenkyo region provides a bounty of ingredients which have sustained the local population's diet for hundreds of years. Nurtured by fertile lands and cooked in local wisdom to enhance each specific flavour, the Shinetsu Shizenkyo region welcomes you with unique local cuisine and food culture, impossible to experience anywhere else.
Integral to Shinshu's food culture and mainly produced in Nozawa Onsen Village, Nozawana is a leafy plant, related to Japanese mustard and the common turnip. It is said that 250 years ago, the 8th generation Master of the local Buddhist Kenmeiji temple had visited the Tennouji temple in Kyoto and brought back seeds for the Tennouji Kabura (turnip). Planting the seeds back in Nozawa however, a genetic mutation in the plants produced the current form of Nozawana, and they have been cultivated since. Though commonly enjoyed alongside rice in pickle form, Nozawana can also be enjoyed soaked and stir-fried. Experiencing Nozawana is not limited to Nozawa Onsen Village; they can be enjoyed at restaurant and accommodation facilities across the Shinetsu Shizenkyo area. The sealed packaging available in shops is highly recommended as a souvenir or gift.
Snow Carrots are a delicacy, and their small numbers are produced by storing harvested carrots under 3-4m of snow for an entire winter. Doing so increases the natural sugar and water content in these carrots, and decreases the distinctive earthy flavor which is sometimes found unpleasant, meaning those who normally can窶冲 stand carrots are able to enjoy them in salads and raw juices. Though the harvest period differs year to year and the amount of snowfall, they are typically on sale at farmers markets and Michi no Eki roadside stations around April to May. The Snow Carrot Soft Serve is exclusive to the roadside station "Hana no eki ? Chikumagawa".
Producing sweet corn relies on a wide ranging temperature difference between night and day. With the ideal altitude of 700-800m, nestled in the shelter of the Shinetsu Gogaku (Shinetsu five mountains), and volcanic ash deposits causing mineral-rich soils, Shinetsu Shizenkyo is renowned for its ideal qualities to produce sweet, fresh corn. In the peak of its season in late July to August, an entire road named the "Morokoshi (Corn) Kaido" ? a reference to the ancient major routes that connected Edo to the rest of Japan ? hosts a multitude of stalls. Its popularity can be attributed to the fact that fresh, straight-off-the-stalk corn is roasted before your eyes and handed over for you to eat on the spot. You can expect to see people travelling from afar to buy the sweet corn.
Low in calories and high in fiber, the health benefits of mushrooms deserve their place in the spotlight. The Shinetsu Shizenkyo area is renowned for its abundant production of Buna-shimeji and Enoki mushrooms, and it is said to be the secret to a long life. They are often served in Japanese-style tempura, or in "Noroshi-nabe" ? a hot pot dish eaten in "Kamakura" igloos in winter. The mountainous surrounds of the region also makes it a prime ground for the "Nemagaridake" bamboo shoots, during April to June. These Nemagaridake bamboo shoots are engrained in the local culture of the area, and the local population prefers them over any other type of bamboos shoot. Served in a miso soup alongside canned mackerel in Takenokojiru, or roasted whole without removing the skins, these local specialties are very popular amongst tourists as well.
It is said that Sasazushi were gifted to the great feudal lord Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo Province (now Niigata) and his troops, as they visited the province of Shinshu (now Nagano) approximately 500 years ago. Vinegared rice is placed upon a "sasa" bamboo leaf, and topped with generous mountain bounties - wild mountain vegetables, Shiitake mushrooms and walnuts. They were valued for the fact that they are long-lasting, due to the antibacterial properties of both the bamboo leaf and vinegared rice; and mobility, as they are individually packaged and do not require chopsticks. Sasazushi have been carried down as the local specialty in the Iiyama and Myoko regions, and can be found at both Japanese style restaurants and inns in the region.
Shinetsu Shizenkyo is one of Japan's leading asparagus producing regions. Mineral rich aquifers nurture soft and juicy stalks, while the surrounding mountain ranges create a clear day-night temperature difference, resulting in increased sugar content and flavor. From the end of May to the beginning of June every year, freshly harvested asparagus is sold at roadside stalls while some restaurants and accommodation facilities in the region serve them in their dishes.
While Spring in Northern Shinshu is slow to warm, it's long daylight hours make it a prime grounds for producing apples. Alongside Tsugaru, Fuji, and other apples consumed across Japan, the region produces a multitude of local unique species such as "Shinano Dolce" and "Shinano Gold". As one of the nation窶冱 leading apple producing regions, Shinetsu Shizenkyo offers a wide variety; from sweet types dripping with nectar, to tart and refreshing species. Fresh, local apples can be found at the many stalls in the area; and jams and sweets utilizing these apples can be found at roadside stations and sweet shops.
A famous rice producing region, the Shinetsu Shizenkyo area has been historically highly regarded due to its mineral rich mountain water, fertile soils and long daylight hours. The rice cultivated in this area is flavourful and sweet, and characterized by its tenacity. Its high regard has not waned ? farmers from the area annually take the gold for the "Annual Rice and Taste Analysis Competition."
It is essential to try Soba when you visit this region. The area's claim to fame comes from the sheer amount of Soba yielded in the significant day to night temperature difference in the mountainous climates. The commonly eaten thinly sliced noodles are not the only form Soba is prepared in this region: the dumpling-like Sobagaki, the filled and grilled Oyaki, and the cracker-like Senbei are just examples of the local Soba dishes. When it comes to noodles however, the regional characteristic is to use the leaves of the "Oyamabokuchi" pokeweed as a binding agent; and each locality has a unique take on it. Called "Tomikura Soba" in Iiyama, "Sugakawa Soba" in Yamanouchi, "Meisuibokuchi Soba" in Kijimadaira, these mysterious Soba noodles are popular for their distinctively satisfying bite.