No visit to a Japanese onsen could ever be considered complete without a fabulous meal at a traditional ryokan, or inn. At ryokan, they take their room service seriously and take much pride in the high quality of their meals. Oftentimes, you’ll be able to find special foods that are unique to hotels that service onsen visitors, and they are definitely not to be missed.
The majority of ryokan offer a type of meal called kaiseki. A kaiseki-style meal includes multiple courses that involve sophisticated culinary techniques and impressive presentation, so it’s a real treat for both the mouth and the eyes. The individual courses are often garnished with real flowers and leaves to evoke the ryokan’s natural surroundings, and the plates and bowls are carefully selected to enhance each dish’s visual appeal.
Of course, one of the major draws of a kaiseki-style meal is its emphasis on seasonality and regional foods. That makes it the perfect way to enjoy specialty onsen foods, like onsen tamago, crab, steamed local vegetables, onsen manju, and more!
Onsen tamago is a standard specialty in hot spring resort towns. It’s the definitive onsen dish, as it’s cooked right in the hot spring! The saltiness of the water seasons the egg, and the 70°C water cooks it “backwards” — that means the yolk becomes hardened, but the whites remain soft and custardy. Each individual onsen creates eggs with a different taste and texture from the others, so you’ll have to try them at each place you visit! These eggs are typically served atop bowls of udon or with a light fish broth.
Another one of the most popular onsen dishes is a special udon called oshibori udon, which is served in resorts around Nagano City. If you love spicy food, you’ll love this take on udon, which features a special kind of extra-peppery daikon radish grown in the area. The radish’s juice is mixed with miso to make a sauce that you dip the warm noodles in before eating. It’s a unique flavor that you can only try at the onsen towns in Nagano Prefecture!
For a wonderful culinary experience that can’t be matched anywhere else in the world, you really must try the food at each Japanese hot spring resort town you visit! I guarantee that they’ll be the freshest and most unique meals you’ve ever had!
BIO: Soleil is a former chef, with an encyclopedia of recipes floating around in her head. Nowadays, she applies her culinary expertise to the wonderful world of fancy picnic baskets at Picnic World.