Breakfast Nirvana in Unspoiled Noto: Yuyado Sakamoto Elevates Rustic Simplicity
- Usuage (thin-fried) tōfu stewed with ginkgo nuts
- Grilled dried deep-sea smelt (megisu)
- Ganmodoki (tōfu fritter)
- White rice
- Miso soup with kajime seaweed
- Pickles (takuan and napa cabbage)
The Noto Peninsula on the Japan Sea is renowned for its unspoiled natural beauty as well as its distinctive local culture, shaped both by its relative isolation and by sporadic contacts with the Asian mainland. In a secluded spot near the northern tip of Noto, outside the town of Suzu, stands a small Japanese-style inn by the name of Yuyado Sakamoto. It may seem like a long way to go for breakfast, but its loyal patrons will tell you it is well worth the trip.
The inn, though stunning in its rustic beauty, may strike some travelers as Spartan when it comes to amenities. The three guest rooms have no TV and no private bath or toilet. The inn is closed in January and February. Even so, Yuyado Sakamoto has maintained a devoted following for decades now. One of the keys to its enduring success is breakfast, lovingly prepared by innkeeper Sakamoto Shin’ichirō and his wife Mihoko.
Each morning, guests awaken to a full-course Japanese-style breakfast (three dishes in addition to rice, soup, and pickles) featuring the best the region has to offer: locally caught fish, homegrown vegetables in season, small-batch tōfu, homemade miso, and more. Sakamoto’s cooking eschews exotic flavor combinations for a laser-like focus on the inherent goodness of the local bounty. It is a culinary style appropriate to a region periodically cut off from the outside world by heavy snowfall.
“My goal is regional and rustic yet tasteful,” explains Sakamoto. “I don’t pursue refinement for its own sake. I want the local ingredients to shine, so I try not to let the cooking get in the way. I’m after clean, clear flavors.”
Arising to find the gardens blanketed in snow, I hurried to wash up before breakfast. After a bracing rinse with cold water at the communal sink, I was ready to dig into one of the inn’s legendary morning meals.(*1)
Ganmodoki (tōfu fritter)
This golden-brown homemade ganmodoki fritter is virtually synonymous with breakfast at Yuyado Sakamoto. Tōfu, made fresh the previous day, is squeezed of its excess moisture, mashed with burdock root, carrot, shiitake mushrooms, and dried shrimp, and deep-fried. (The quality of the frying oil is key, notes Sakamoto.)
Usuage (thin-fried) tōfu stewed with ginkgo nuts
Sakamoto gets his fresh usuage (thin twice-fried tōfu sheets) from his favorite tōfu shop in nearby Suzu. The usuage is simmered gently for half a day, along with plump ginkgo nuts, in a dashi stock flavored with dried anchovies and konbu kelp.
Grilled dried deep-sea smelt (megisu)
The locals call these deep-sea smelts megisu, though they are more commonly known as nigisu. These small, tasty fish are usually dried whole and eaten viscera and all. Sakamoto air-dries the fresh-caught smelts himself and grills them for his guests. A wise old fisherman taught him the secret to drying fish: Time, effort, and wind.
From another revered mentor, the late Murase Myōdōni of Gesshinji temple, Sakamoto learned the importance of focusing on the basics: rice, miso soup, pickles. Preparing and cooking perfect rice is a labor of love for Sakamoto. He purchases the rice unpolished, stores it at low temperatures, and meticulously polishes it in small batches. Before steaming, he quickly hand-washes the rice, then rinses it for 20 minutes in cold running spring water. The cooked rice is transferred to a traditional round wooden tub and covered with a damp cloth.
In place of ceramic rice bowls, Sakamoto serves his rice in lacquerware crafted in Wajima (just across the peninsula). The gleam of white rice reflected in the bowl’s glossy interior is a sight to inspire religious sentiment.
Miso soup with kajime seaweed
Kajime (Ecklonia cava) is an edible seaweed similar to konbu. The kajime harvested off the coast of Noto is prized for its slippery texture. In combination with Sakamoto’s homemade miso, it produces a richly nutritious and flavorful soup.
The Japanese custom of serving pickled vegetables each meal makes sense from the standpoint of nutrition as well as taste. The Sakamotos make their own pickles from homegrown vegetables. They use a traditional family recipe for the mild takuan (dried and pickled daikon radish) and rice-bran-pickled napa cabbage pictured here.
Address: Jisha, Uedomachi, Suzu, 927-1216, Ishikawa Prefecture
Reservations by phone only
(Interview and text by Kiyono Yumi. Photos by Inomata Hiroshi. Series title written by Kanazawa Shōko.)
(*1)^Water is one of the secrets of Yuyado Sakamoto’s success. Two different springs run through the property. One provides healthful mineral-rich water for the baths, while the other supplies crystal-clear, soft water ideal for cooking.