Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Trip to Niigata Prefecture Part 2)
2020-09-02

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adorned with repurposed sake barrels with a tasting room and display shelves creating a chic ambiance without appearing out-of-date.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.


東京地酒散歩(新潟の旅・その2)
 新潟へラーメンと酒蔵の旅に出たことを前回書いたのだが、今回はその続きである。新潟県村上市に瀬波温泉という温泉地がある。初日、金升酒造を後にした我々は夕日が日本海に沈む姿を見ながらノンビリしようという事で瀬波温泉の中で一番大きい大観荘せなみの湯という宿を取った。到着して最初に行ったのが体温チェック。体温が高かったら泊まれないのだろうかという不安の中、無事旅館内に入ることが出来た。勿論、最初は温泉で長旅の疲れを癒すしかないと荷物は部屋に放り投げ、温泉へと向かう。残念ながら夕日が沈む瞬間には早すぎたのだが、夕食の時間に食事処から沈む夕日を見ることが出来た。天気にも恵まれて素晴らしい景色を眺めながら食べる夕食は格別であった。翌日は新潟市の西蒲区にある笹祝酒造を目標に出発。宿から2時間程で蔵に到着。以前訪れた際とは雰囲気が変わっている蔵の雰囲気に期待が膨らむ。まるでカフェの様な入り口に蔵の酒樽を再利用した試飲場やディスプレイ棚が古さを感じさせずオシャレな様子で造られてあった。酒造りは終わっている時期であるが、蔵内に入るとやはり歴史ある建築や道具に圧倒され口が開きっぱなしになる感じがした。近代化の流れの中で地酒の酒蔵らしい製造過程に戻しつつ蔵人が働きやすい環境に造り直していると笹口蔵元。まだ30代と若い蔵元だが今と未来がしっかり見えているやり手社長だと感じた。ひと通り酒蔵内を見せてもらった最後に、大量の陶器が並べてある場所が有り、これは何かと聞くと蔵の倉庫に眠っていた物で格安で蔵に来た人に販売しているとのこと。板前も一緒にいたので、店で使えそうな小皿などとディスプレイに使えそうな通い徳利を購入。通い徳利は笹祝酒造と名乗る以前の物とのこと。年代物の陶器を手に入れ上機嫌で酒蔵を後にした。次は長岡の酒蔵を目指すのだが、その前に昼食として燕三条系背脂ラーメンで有名な杭州飯店へ。最近は、太麺で背脂を入れるラーメンが東京でも多くなっているが新潟が発祥らしい。寒い新潟でスープが冷めない様にと背脂を最後に浮かせ食べ終わるまで麺が伸びない様にと太麺にしたのが始まりとのこと。餃子3個とスタンダードな中華そばを頼んだ。背脂は多めに出来るのだが初めて食べる店なので普通でお願いした。餃子は1個が子供の握り拳くらいある野菜餃子で、3個食べれば小食の人なら満腹になる大きさだった。メインのラーメンはちょっとしょっぱめのスープだが背脂と一緒にすすると背脂が塩分を緩和してちょうど良い状態になる。成程、背脂にはこの様な意味もあるのかと感心しながら完食。腹も膨れて元気が出てきたところで、長岡市の酒蔵を目指すのだが、この続きはその3で。


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