Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Trip to Niigata Prefecture Part 2)

By Ryuji Takahashi

This article is a continuation of my previous issue about my trip to Niigata prefecture to enjoy ramen and a local sake brewery tour. Niigata prefecture is home to the “Senami Onsen” hot springs in Murakami city. On the first day, we left the Kanemasu Brewery and booked a reservation at the traditional Japanese inn “Taikanso Senami no Yu” with the largest bath at the Senami Onsen hot springs to bathe and relax while viewing the sun set into the Japan Sea. As soon as we arrived, we had our temperature checked.
Initially concerned a high temperature might prevent our stay; we were luckily able to check in without any issues. Of course, we dropped off the luggage in our rooms and headed straight to the hot springs to recover from the long trip. Unfortunately, we went too early to see the sunset from the hot springs, but witnessed the sunset from the dining room while enjoying our dinner course.
Blessed by the beautiful weather, we enjoyed our dinner course while taking in the spectacular sunset. The next day, we left the inn and arrived at the Sasaiwai Brewery in Nishikanku ward, Niigata city; after approximately 2 hours. My hopes grew as I noticed the ambiance inside the Sasaiwai Brewery changed since my last visit.
The entrance of the sake brewery is similar to that of a café, adorned with repurposed sake barrels with a tasting room and display shelves creating a chic ambiance without appearing out-of-date. Sake production was already over by the time we visited. However, walking inside the brewery, I was overwhelmed by many historic architecture and tools that made my jaw drop in awe.
Brewery Master Sasaguchi explained reinstating the authentic regional sake production process in modern times while reorganizing a user-friendly workplace for his sake brewery workers. Still in his thirties, the young Brewery Master seems to be a capable CEO with a clear understanding of both the modern day demands and the future direction of the sake industry.
After a tour of the sake brewery, we asked about the large quantity of pottery lined on a shelf. The pottery was stored inside the storage unit, sold to visitors of the brewery at very cheap prices. Our chef was with me, so we bought small plates for use and a small serving flask for display at our restaurant. Happy to purchase rare antiques, we left the brewery in a very good mood.
We headed to the next sake brewery in Nagaoka. We stopped in for lunch at the ramen shop Koshu Hanten, renowned for their Tsubame Sanjo Seabura Ramen. The recent prevalence of thick ramen noodles in pork soup stock with pork back fat served in Tokyo originated in Niigata prefecture. Pork back fat is served floating on the soup surface to ensure the soup does not get cold in the cold climate of Niigata prefecture, along with thick noodles to ensure the noodles don’t get overcooked and soft before the very last bite.
I ordered 3 vegetable gyoza (dumplings) and a standard ramen. Although Koshu Hanten accepts orders for generous portions of pork back fat, I ordered the regular portion for my first visit. The gyoza was the size of a child’s fist, with 3 pieces sufficiently filling for someone with a small appetite. For the main course, the ramen broth was a bit on the salty side, but sipping together with the pork back fat neutralizes the saltiness to create the perfect harmony of flavors. I was surprised by this newly discovered function that pork back fat plays in the ramen soup stock as I finished the bowl. Full and satisfied, we headed next to another sake brewery in Nagaoka city, to be continued in Part 3.