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Enjoy the flavour and experience the local food culture unique to the snow country of Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park. With a deep understanding and wisdom passed down through generations, the local people of this area have learnt to live in harmony with nature, producing nutrient rich and delicious natural foods in every season.
In the 1700s the master of a Buddhist temple travelled to the mountains of Kyoto, picked a leafy green vegetable and brought it back to Meisenji Temple, Nozawa. Now known as- Nozawa-na (na means vegetable), it is one of the most popular leafy greens in Nagano. It originated from the turnip family and is resistant to hot and cold temperatures, which is one of the reasons it thrives in this climate. Nozawa-na is often pickled or fried, and is a popular souvenir in Nagano prefecture.
Snow Carrots get their name from being stored under 2 or 3 metres of snow in the winter after the autumn harvest. Being left for months in the cold snow actually increases the carrot’s sugar and water content giving them a delicate sweet flavour. Snow Carrot soft serve is a particular favourite in the area.
Sweet corn or tōmorokoshi develops well in Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park’s climate, with an ideal altitude of 700-800m and mineral rich volcanic soils. The corn is sweet and succulent, and often enjoyed at Japanese festivals where they brush the corn with soy sauce, mirin and sugar before grilling it. The smell is irresistible.
Hike through the local trails in the Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park mountains and you may well see local villagers foraging for mountain vegetables and other natural foods including mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
Mushrooms are especially abundant in thearea; buna shimeji and enoki being the most popular. These are eaten in a variety of ways such as tempura or nabe (Japanese hot pot).
It is usually a race between the Japanese black bear and the villagers as to who can get to the bamboo shoots (take no ko) first as they are succulent and full of nutrients for both animals and humans. A popular local dish is takenojiru, a delicious nutritious miso, bamboo shoot and mackerel soup.
Sasazushi is a local delicacy in Iiyama and Myoko. It is a bamboo leaf (sasa) topped with sushi rice, ginger, sansai (mountain vegetables), Shiitake mushrooms and walnuts. Easy to travel with, and long-lasting due to the antibacterial properties of the sasa leaf and the vinegar in the rice, sasazushi were often given as gifts to the troops during the Battle of Kawanakajima. Still popular today, sasazushi can be enjoyed at many local stores within Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park.
In the rural areas of Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park, it is only polite to offer visitors to your home a hot drink, usually green tea, and a variety of o-yatsu (snacks), and from May to June, asparagus may be the o-yatsu of choice; cooked in butter and served with mayonnaise, the asparagus is melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Due to clear night skies and cold nights in the mountainous areas the flavour is rich and a little sweet.
Northern Nagano prides itself on producing some of the best apples in Japan. Visitors are always amazed at the size and the sweetness of some of the apples. Alongside the nation’s famous Sun Fuji and Tsugaru apples are Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park’s unique Shinano Dolce and Shinano Gold. Fuji apples with a high amount of nectar or mitsu inside are sought after in Japan. The nectar looks like a transparent yellow flesh inside the apple and has an even sweeter taste. The Shin’estu Shizenkyo Nature Park boasts a wide variety of apples, from the juicy sweet to the crisp tart and refreshing.
Rice terraces covered in snow are one of the most beautiful views in northern Nagano. Metres of snow cover the rice paddies for around five months of every year. It is this mineral rich melted snow, mountain spring water and fertile soil that produce some of Japan’s most delicious rice. In fact, the area annually takes gold in the Annual Rice and Taste Analysis Competition.
Fields of beautiful white buckwheat flowers can be seen growing abundantly in Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park. The seeds are harvested and made into Nagano’s famous soba (buckwheat noodles). These soba noodles can be enjoyed both hot and cold, and depending on the region, the type of soba noodle will differ in thickness, taste and content. Well-known for their unique texture are Tomikura soba in Iiyama, Sugakawa soba in Yamanouchi and Meisuibokuchi soba in Kijimadaira. Also popular with tourists are oyaki, dumplings filled with local vegetables, apples or aduki beans.
Shin’etsu Shizenkyo Nature Park is blessed with a perfect climate for the production of sake. The heavy snowfall which melts into the rice paddies every spring enriches the soil with minerals to produce some of the highest quality rice in Japan, which in turn produces a variety of high quality delicious sake. There are many breweries within Shin’estu Shizenkyo Nature Park, each with their own unique flavour. Some breweries offer sampling and tours of the brewery to see how the sake is made.