One of the best things that could happen to you while living abroad is having local friends. Why? The answer is very simple. They can show you around and teach you amazing facts about their own culture that you would have never had the chance to know otherwise. But most of all, your local friends are experts of the local cuisine, meaning that you will experience some of the most delicious and tasty snacks and meals by their side.
This is obviously a dream for a food lover like me.
I always try to challenge myself into tasting new dishes and flavors. Of course, I can also be a bit picky at times, but when my own friends recommend me tasty snacks, there’s no way I can say no.
Tasty Snacks: my personal food experience in Gifu and Mie prefectures.
I was recently able to visit Yumi, a good friend of mine, for a weekend in her hometown, near Nagoya. From there we actually moved first to Gifu and then to Mie prefectures. She was very kind to drive me around and bring me to some of Japan’s most famous spots.
I was so happy that I could finally have the chance to explore a part of the country that was still unknown to me. On top of that, she and her friends were great gourmet guides. As you can imagine, thanks to their immense knowledge of the areas’ most delicious snacks, I had one of the most enjoyable and tasty weekends ever.
Day 1: Tasty snacks in Gifu Prefecture.
It all started on the way to Shirakawa-go.
From Nagoya (where we started our journey) to Shirakawa-go, it’s a bit more than a 2 hours drive.
Halfway we needed a break and so we decided to make a quick pit stop. I would have never imagined finding great soft served ice cream in such a remote place.
Apparently, the area is very well known for its high-quality milk. As my friend Yumi told me, this tasty ice cream is produced only by using milk from local cows. Being Italian, I’m always very skeptical about ice cream. I’m a huge gelato fan, and I always expect my ice cream to be extra soft, milky, and creamy. And to my surprise, this was actually just like that. This quick stop was definitely a sweet and refreshing break to start a long day on the right track.
Next on our snack list was Mamekichi, a “mame” (Japanese bean) shop right in the heart of Shirakawa-go. This small shop is very famous among Japanese visitors for selling some of the best-flavored snacks and sweets made with beans. This is one of Yumi’s favorite shops and she always stops by whenever she’s in the area.
You can pick among so many flavors that I’m sure you’ll find the one that suits your tastes best! And if you’re a very indecisive person like me, you can also try some samples before buying your favorite! I don’t know if I’ve already told you about how addicted to sweet flavors I am. If not, well, now you know! It won’t surprise you then that these were the flavors I liked the most: green tea (matcha), Sakura (cherry), mango and blueberry! Eventually, I decided to get a package of blueberry flavor beans as a souvenir!
After stopping by this cute little bean shop, we continued our nice walk through the historic village of Shirakawa-go. Shirakawa-go is famous for its intact traditional gassho-style houses (buildings with a steeply pitched roof to withstand heavy snow). The name of this building technique actually means “build like hands in prayer”. This is a reference to the shape of the roofs that resemble the hands of a Buddhist monk when praying.
You might be wondering what is so special about these houses and their roofs? Well, this type of architecture can’t be found anywhere else in Japan and it’s so unique and rare to the point that the village was designated one of Japan’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Some of these farmhouses also date back to over 400 years and represent an authentic example of traditional rural settlements perfectly blending with the surrounding environment. And just by walking around the area you can feel how special it is!
I had been looking forward to visiting Shirakawa-go for ages, but until then I hadn’t had the chance yet. Unfortunately, on the day we went there it was raining. Even so, I found this village extremely interesting and different from anything else I’ve stumbled across during any of my Japanese adventures.
The rainy and cold weather actually made me and my friends hungry so, before leaving this lovely place, we decided to have our next tasty snack. We picked Mitarashi Dango soy-sauce flavor (a bamboo stick of small mochi balls covered with sweet sauce glaze made of soy sauce and sugar).
Very popular throughout the entire prefecture, Mitarashi Dango is delicious and ideal to calm your cravings for a bit. Just until your next snack break!
After Shirakawa-go we stopped by Takayama. Also known as Hida-Takayama, this is a lovely town famous for its many old traditional wooden houses, lined up along the beautifully preserved streets of Sannomachi, and Sanmachi.
These constructions date back to the Edo Period and they house shops, coffee houses, sake breweries, and restaurants, some of which have been operating for centuries!
By the time we reached Takayama, the weather had cleared up and we could enjoy our walk around the town’s old district without needing an umbrella.
The best memory I have from Takayama? As you can guess, the street food aroma all around me and the cheerful voices of people. To my surprise, the area is also very popular among foreign travelers, including many Italians!
Just like expected, my friends and I went on a little snack tour!
First, we couldn’t help but taste another type of Mitarashi Dango, this time Miso flavor. Delicious but I still prefer the sweeter one!
Next? Ichigo Daifuku (Strawberry mochi), a Japanese sweet made with mochi and filled with red bean paste and a fresh strawberry. Indescribably delicious!! I wish I could convey more effectively how tasty, sweet and fresh that strawberry was!!
As I said, there are plenty of traditional shops in this area, many of which specialize in Japanese traditional cooking ingredients. Among them, we decided to walk into a Miso paste shop. Miso is a traditional Japanese type of seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and fungus. It can be used in many ways, including mixing it with dashi soup stock to cook the famous Miso soup.
Not only can you buy these ingredients at the store, you can also taste a sip of Miso soup. Honestly, I usually don’t like miso soup that much. The sample I tried at this store, however, was one of the tastiest I’ve ever had!
As girls do, we obviously didn’t miss the chance to enjoy some window shopping at the many gift shops along the way. While strolling around all these old shops, we couldn’t resist having another snack: Hida Gyuniku (local Hida beef) skewers. This actually deserves a WOW. I’m not into meat that much but that beef was perfectly cooked, which is actually no surprise in Japan.
As Yumi explained to me, Hida beef is a local specialty known across the whole country and it definitely lives up to its reputation. There are many street food stands in town making this high-quality meat snack. Finding one is not difficult at all! Just spot a line and 90% of the time it’s one of these little shops!
After spending the entire afternoon enjoying the historical atmosphere of Takayama and its tasty snacks, it was already time to leave. But first, we made another quick stop on the way to the car and got a Senbei (a type of Japanese rice cracker) on the go. As for many other Japanese snacks, you can pick among several types and flavors.
I got the sesame flavor one and loved it! After enjoying this last snack, we were finally ready to go!
Our day trip to Shirakawago & Takayama was over but here’s what made it so special: historical spots, loads of laughs and many tasty snacks to fill up our stomach!
Are you curious about what happened on the second day of our trip? Find it out in “Tasty Snacks: what to try in Gifu and Mie prefectures! (Part 2)“! Destination of the second day? Mie Prefecture and Ise Jingu Shrine!