After spending several days in Tokyo our little adventure in Japan took us to Asaba Ryokan in Shuzenji, a pictoresque village about 2 hours by train south of Tokyo that was recommended by the lovely Ayaka of the Ryokan Collection. Asaba is a traditional Japanese ryokan dating back to 1675 (and still owned by the family who started it) situated in the hot spring (onsen) village of Shuzenji and bordered by a bamboo forest on one side, a lagoon on the other and a Noh stage floating above the pond like in a dream. It’s one of those magical places you never want to leave.
That’s where travelers in search of peacefulness and delicious food come to spend the night. And they wear yucatas. I think they may be a video of myself in a yucata struggle circulating on the internet soon. I hope you close your eyes in time. Ouch.
Step into Asaba and you feel like you have stepped into another world. A world significantly slower and where great attention is paid to every details for the ultimate comfort. I’ve travelled quite a bit around the world but nothing in my opinion can match Japanese hospitality. And if that wasn’t enough you have access to the hot springs in public and private spots in Asaba, and even in your room.
Guest rooms are constructed using traditional Japanese methods: tatami and sliding doors are the norm here. There was also a sliding screen door giving on the spring right outside that filled the room with the soothing sound of water. Isn’t it the most perfect setting for a zen chef?
The table is used for meals which are served right in your room. After the meal is done, a team of nakai come to move the table aside and set out the futon for sleeping.
Another reason, if not the main reason, you should visit a Ryokan is for the food. There’s usually a Master in the kitchen and this place is no exception. The chef has been working at Asaba for the past 30 years and the meals consist of kaiseki cuisine and features seasonal and regional specialties prepared in the most harmonious manner.
Fear not. The menu also comes written in english.
This may look simple but those may be the best scallops i have ever eaten. They were firm and meaty but fresh and the flavor was sublime. The creamy sauce they were served with took them to another dimension. As it could get any better, it was served with sake with chrysanthemum leaves.
Next on the menu was a seasonal platter which was artfully arranged and served by our hostess Noriko, aka: the most gracious and knowledgeable person you can wish for to serve you dinner. The composed platter consisted of Ikura (salmon roe + grated daikon), chrysanthemum flowers wilted with jelly fish and shitake mushrooms, glazed chicken wrapped in shiso, a steamed prawn, a sea snail and a mountain root vegetable.
The next course was a clean tasting Japanese style consomme which consisted of burdock, shiitake, mountain gourd, bamboo and pork fat. Oh yea! And it was followed by a sashimi of flounder and creamy tasting squid. Beautiful and pure.
Next was kinme, a local fish from the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture where Asaba ryokan is located. It was lightly cured in miso and sake and grilled over Japanese charcoals which was the perfect treatment for this fatty fish.
And there was a grilled spiny lobster in a lobster broth. As simple as it looks this dish packed lots of roe and plenty of briny and sweet flavors. One of my favorite of the night.
Braised platinum pork with turnips which we labeled ‘fried pork fat’ after the first bite. It was just as delicious as it sounds of course, with turnip, Japanese citrus zest and a clear aromatic broth for the perfect balance.
Conger eel stuffed with sticky black rice and a pickled ginger stem was followed by vegetables and deep fried tofu rice with pork. Some pickled daikon and myoga and a miso soup. I’m hungry again just writing about it.
For dessert was kuzukuri ( a kuzu starch noodle) in a black syrup, a smokey grilled eggplant ice cream that was phenomenal and a ginger ice cream as palate cleanser.
This was only dinner. Breakfast in Asaba ryokan is just as impressive but let’s keep some element of surprise for when you visit.
I hope you enjoyed this little peek into the “perfect world”. Now go and explore for yourself.
3450 -1 Shuzenji Izu-shi Shizuoka
tel: +81 (0) 558-72-7000