The vegetarian cuisine that you can sample at some of Daisen’s inns is rooted in the town’s long history as a center of Buddhist worship. The religious precept of nonviolence led temple cooks to develop a wide range of meatless dishes, such as vegetables simmered in seaweed broth and tofu made from sesame seeds; the style of cooking is called shojin ryori in Japanese. While monks and nuns often ate very simply, tourists are usually treated to a more elaborate version of shojin ryori, with many beautifully-presented dishes arranged on lacquered trays. Some temple meals prepared for tourists uses fish broth or other fish products, however, so strict vegetarians should check with the kitchen to make sure their meal is truly animal-free.
The deep natural woods surrounding Daisen provide villagers with an abundance of wild vegetables. When fall rolls around locals head out to collect mushrooms and chestnuts in the woods, and as soon as the snow melts in spring they’re out again plucking the first pale green butterburs and baby ferns. Summer is the time for catching char and other freshwater fish. Lucky for visitors, the harvest often ends up on the dinner menu at local inns.
More recently villagers have developed a healthy style of cooking that features local vegetables and fish. It’s called hyakusai shoku, or “hundred-year cooking,” because those who eat it will live a long life – or so it’s said! Some inns offer hyakusai shoku, but it’s usually necessary to let the owner know ahead of time you’d like to try it.
Noodles made with unrefined locally-grown buckwheat are popular in the area. They are known for their robust flavor and dark color.
Nakanohara Ginrei serves a nice selection of different dipping sauces with their handmade soba, and the chef even lets guests try rolling and cutting your own! If you’re used to the salty/savory soba dipping sauce from eastern Japan, you might find Daisen dipping sauce a bit sweet. In general, cooks in western Japan tends to add a dash more sugar than their counterparts in the east.
Okowa is a traditional dish of sticky rice steamed with flavorings, wild vegetables, and other chopped vegetables and meats. Legend has it that the dish was originally served to people attending the local cow and horse market. Okowa is on the menu at many of Daisen’s inns and restaurants.
The cozy Inakaya Café opened in a remodeled temple-inn in 2010 – but wooden beams shiny with age and old Buddhist statuary from the temple make the café and adjoining shop feel like they’ve been there much longer. The café offers freshly-roasted coffee, homemade cake, and macha green tea; the shop has an eclectic collection of clothes made from recycled kimonos, antique household goods, pretty old dishes, and artwork.