The best things I ate and drank in Japan
Okay, let's do this
Hello, Snackers. I don’t do lists of Best Things. I don’t! They’re such a cliché of food journalism! But … okay, fine, sometimes they’re fun to write and (I hope) fun to read. So here we go.
Best snack: Peach smoothie at Mori no Kumasan in the Iya Valley
It was white peach season in Japan—it’s a whole thing!—and there were peach-flavored foods everywhere. On the day we went to the vine bridge in the Iya Valley, the air was furnace-blast hot (I live in Minnesota and I’m used to summer heat and humidity, but this was above and beyond) and we needed some refreshment after we crossed the totally safe, not at all terrifying bridge.
There was a little café called Mori no Kumasan (Bear of the Mountain) a short walk from the bridge and we went there to have a snack and sit on the porch and watch the tourist crowds make their way to the treacherous crossing. By “snack,” I mean it turned into a full meal because we were hungry and everything looked good. From left: stellar fried chicken, honey cake, French toast, and the world’s most perfect peach smoothie.
I love smoothies, but it always feels like there’s something just a bit off: a bitter taste coming in too strong, a few too many seeds, an excess of yogurt, something is keeping the drink from hitting a full 10/10. But this? This was the perfect balance of tart and creamy, an unparalleled cooler-offer (that’s a real term, stick with me).
Best cocktail: Peach old fashioned at the Benesse House Lounge in Naoshima
Maren has been telling me about Naoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, since our first dates more than a decade ago. It’s filled with modern art, some of it in stunning modern museums, some of it in small, remodeled old houses, some of it just sitting out in fields or at the end of piers. There are multiple museums (and a hotel) designed by Tadao Ando, which include multiple installations by James Terrell, and if those names mean anything to you, know that their combined forces are especially mind-blowing. If I could teleport anywhere in the world right now, it would be Naoshima.
We stayed at that Ando-designed hotel, Benesse House, for a night. We ate dinner in one of the artsy villages on the island and then, back at the hotel, put on the sole Nice Outfits we’d packed for the trip and went down to the hotel lounge, a beautifully minimalist space with high ceilings, lots of exposed concrete, and tables made from weathered tree trunks topped with glass).
I genuinely don’t remember what I got for my first cocktail. My forgetfulness wasn’t because I got tipsy (I only had two drinks) but because the second one completely overshadowed it. It was an old fashioned made with two shots of Chita whisky and a generous dollop of local white peach puree, and served in an ornate covered bowl with woodsmoke piped in. Lift the top and the scene of a campfire comes drifting out, then sip and savor the layered flavors: sweet and sour and smoky, all drifting together, the balance slightly different each time it hits your tongue. Both the drink and the architecture around us were somehow both extravagant and subdued, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.