This winter and spring, tourists in Japan can get off the beaten path and head to Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, on the west coast of Tohoku and enjoy a unique culinary experience at NAA Farmer’s Restaurant with Cradle Tours.
Tsuruoka is the only city in Japan, and one of 18 worldwide, named a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. The city joined the UNESCO network in 2014 as it is known for its food diversity, including a type of edamame called dadacha-mame (だだちゃ豆). Unlike other regions that have altered their crops over the centuries, Tsuruoka maintains its heritage with original local crops.
As a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, the city, including NAA Farmer’s Restaurant, encourages the preservation and promotion of indigenous crops and their use in traditional gastronomy in order to transmit this knowledge to future generations; promote collaboration between farmers, chefs, and related industries, as well as research to enhance the region’s unique gastronomy; and share experiences related to the promotion of Creative Cities.
Located a little over four hours from Tokyo Station, Tsuruoka offers more than just agriculture with Mt. Haguro (羽黒山), one of the Three Mountains of Dewa, a short trip from the station. There’s plenty in the area for nature lovers to enjoy before or after taking a tour of the organic farm-to-table NAA Farmer’s Restaurant. From the entrance of Mt. Haguro (Zuishin mon gate) to the restaurant is a 35-minute taxi ride.
Tsuruoka is also included in The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2018” along with the rest of Honshu’s west coast.
Prior to the tour, visitors can get acquainted with Tsuruoka cuisine at the FOODEVER food culture market right outside the train station. Not only will guests learn about the city’s food culture, but also sample the fresh flavors of the season from a variety of vendors. The market has enough to keep you busy through lunch and provide you with enough of a taste to keep you salivating in anticipation of dinner at NAA Farmer’s Restaurant.
The tours to this off-the-beaten-path destination begin at the restaurant at 3:50 pm with an introduction and tour of the farm, including time with the 35-year-old owner and chef Norimasa Onodera who returned to his family farm in 2013 to turn it into one of Japan’s premier farm-to-table restaurants. The two-hour seasonal dinner is served at 6:30.
All ingredients for the meal, except for meat and fish, are supplied by the family-owned Onodera Farm, which is committed to pesticide and chemical fertilizer-free vegetable and rice cultivation. It is one of three local organic farms. The dinner menu for tours changes depending on the available ingredients at the time and recipes are based on family traditions.
The menu may include shabu shabu (hot pot) with spinach and local pork, mushroom and taro marinated in ankake (あんかけ), and ganmodoki, a fried bean curd cake with vegetables.
During the tour, Norimasa Onodera will discuss what makes the farm special, including the organic farming methods and seasonal crops, as well as its harmony with nature and his passion for culinary art. He will also tell guests about his passion for cooking and reasons for returning to the farm in Tsuruoka. All of this will add to the experience as diners have a better understanding of the seasonal ingredients at the dinner table.
The chef says that Tsuruoka is blessed with the best ingredients from the mountains and sea, as well as varieties of rice and sake to enjoy. The fruits and vegetables in the region have adapted to the climate and strong wind, giving them a sweeter flavor as the natural sugar protects them from the wind and cold.
The cost of the dinner, including interpreter’s fee, is ¥13,800 per person (tax included). For guests that want to stay overnight at the farm, it’s an additional ¥8,000 (tax included). Minimum booking is for two people. Accommodation in the 130-year-old minshuku (traditional bed & breakfast) is limited to two couples per day. A taxi from Tsuruoka Station to NAA Farmer’s Restaurant is about ¥1,600.
Available Tour Dates:
- Nov. 2017: 18 (Sat), 24 (Fri)
- Dec. 2017: 1 (Fri), 9 (Sat), 15 (Fri), 23 (Sat)
- Jan. 2018: 12 (Fri), 20 (Sat), 26 (Fri)
- Feb. 2018: 3 (Sat), 9 (Fri), 17 (Sat), 23 (Fri)
- Mar. 2018: 3 (Sat), 9 (Fri), 17 (Sat)
To book a tour and dinner at NAA Farmer’s Restaurant, contact the tour organizer, Cradle, at [email protected].
Disclaimer: This is a promoted post from Cradle and its PR agency, Solaris Space, in Japan. All photos supplied by Cradle and NAA Farmer’s Restaurant.