Foodie hotspots: Kobe (Sannomiya, Motomachi, Chinatown, Rokko, Kitano, Higashi Nada), Himeji, Kinosaki and Arima Hot-springs, Tokose, Izushi, Awajishima, Tajima, Kasumi.
Foodies Look Out For: Kobe and Tajima beef; Izushi and Tokose buckwheat noodles; kani ryori crab cuisine, especially at Kinosaki Hot-springs; somen noodles; Kobe Chinatown; Nada sake; our editor's 'favorite restaurant in Japan'.
The Basics: Cosmopolitan, fashion conscious, open-minded Kobe is one of our favorite Japanese cities. Easily accessed on the Sanyo Shinkansen bullet train line (through Shin Kobe station), it's a bustling port city that has long welcomed visitors and residents from overseas. Tourists heading to Kansai often concentrate on Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Hyogo's own Himeji Castle, but it would be a shame to overlook Kobe simply as it doesn't have particularly famous 'attractions'.
That said, Hyogo isn't only Kobe and Himeji castle. Its Northern coastline is a good place to hit the beach in summer, Kannabe-kogen and Hachi-kogen have great winter sports, and the hot-springs at Kinosaki (easily accessible from Osaka and Kyoto by train) are a sybaritic pleasure all year round. There are also parts of the prefecture - in the high mountains - that remain quite difficult to reach, and thus unspoilt. See the comments on Tokose below.
Yes, its mountain villages may be remote, but not too much so. And you can always hop on a flight up to Kounotori Tajima airport if the fancy takes. From Osaka Itami it takes just 40 minutes.
Foodies Go Hyogo:
Hyogo is great for foodies as it maintains perfect balance of urban sophistication and rural charm. Let's begin with Kobe. The world knows it through its famously expensive Kobe beef, with its marbled, delta-like network of fine, white strands known as shimofuri, set against a luscious deep red flesh.
In fact, most of it is reared in the north of the prefecture in the Tajima region, which also produces its own 'luxury brand' cattle, Tajima-gyu. Find Kobe beef at all the top hotels in Kobe and at specialist outlets. Steakland Kobekan is especially good value, but if price is no obstacle, you'll want to try the long-established Michelin-starred Aragawa on Nakayamate-dori or Miyasu. A personal favorite is Bifteck Kawamura in Sannomiya. If it is full, you can always try the nearby Mouriya Honten.
You may think that it's odd to visit Japan and go to Chinatown, but if so, you're going to miss out on a lot of foodie fun. Our favorite here is Minsei Kanton Ryoriten, but you can expect to queue to get in. The same applies at the legendary nikuman pork dumpling specialist, Roushouki. For something a little fancy, check out the lovely Toutenkaku Royal Chinese Restaurant set in an Ijinkan 'western house' in the Kitano district.
Out in the Hyogo countryside you'll find fabulous soba buckwheat noodles. The old castle town of Izushi is especially famed for its Izushi soba, in which the noodles are served on small white porcelain plates. Kinmata is without question the best of the many soba places. It is in the center of town. Try to get one of their cozy tatami 'cubicle' rooms.
If you are a soba fan, however, and you've made it this far, you should consider heading through Hidaka-cho and over Kannabe Kogen (stop at Kannabe Yutorogi for a quick dip?) to Tokose village, and the wonderful Furusato.
When I write about Furusato in Tokose, it is hard not to go into paroxysms of enthusiastic praise. What a magnificent place. It's an old minka thatched farmhouse serving not just fabulous Tokose-ryu soba buckwheat noodles, but also matsuba grilled chicken on the wishbone, homemade konnyaku sashimi and tsukemono pickles, and sublime yamame river fish. The latter are not for the squeamish, as they grilled alive over an irori charcoal hearth. The owner, Taniguchi-san, is super friendly too. This is probably my favorite rural restaurant in the land. It is pretty remote though. You'll need to drive there, or take an expensive taxi ride from Toyo'oka station.
The Northern part of the prefecture is renowned for its seafood, especially the matsubagani crabs taken here from early November to the end of March. The best places to partake of them are Kinosaki onsen - the ryokan Nishimuraya Honten is superb - and the small town of Kasumi further along the coast. Kasumi Minshuku Ryokan Umenoya is a fabulous spot to stay overnight to sample the local beef and seafood cuisine.
In central Hyogo, during the summer months, try the Ibo no Itou somen nagashi in Setokura Takinagashi. It is the very definition of 'middle of nowhere' on Route 29 in Shiso district. On Awajishima, don't miss out on hamo ryori pike conger cuisine in summer, and fugu blowfish in winter. Cococho in the north of the island, and Hamafuku in the south are two of the best spots. Kinzushi in Sumoto Honmachi is a great local sushi specialist.
If you are on a visit to Himeji, check out the friendly humble shokudo canteen Asahiya in the arcade in front of Himeji station. It's fab. Buckwheat soba specialist Ikki, between the station and Himeji Castle, is another excellent option. Back over in Kobe, sweets lovers will wish to check out the wagashi fusion offerings at the highly popular Bonbon Rocket located in front of the Hankyu Rokko station. The yuzu matcha sandies are awesome.
The Hyogo Budget Gourmet
Akashiyaki, from Akashi city, is almost identical to Osaka's famed takoyaki octopus balls, but has a softer, more eggy filling, and is eaten dipped into a dashi sauce. These are great when you are in the mood. Funamachi in Zaimoku-cho, Uta in Honmachi, and Honke Kimuraya in the Kajiya-cho arcade. If you can't get to Akashi to try it, head to Takonyudo in Kyoto's Kiyamachi. It's a great izakaya, and their akashiyaki is top notch.
Sobameshi began in Nagata ward in Kobe at a place named Aomori. A regular customer had ordered yakisoba, but he happened to have some rice left in his bento box, so he suggested, 'Why don't you stick the rice in with the yakisoba noodles'. Thus, sobameshi was born. Rice and noodles, bokkake chopped beef gizzards (are you still reading?) and konnyaku devil's tongue (you are not still reading, right?), are stewed in soy sauce and sugar, to which is added Worcestershire sauce. Well, don't forget, lots of things get lost in translation. People love this stuff.
Kobe korokke are altogether easier on the palate. Made using the leftovers - the suji - of the famed Kobe beef, these croquettes are inexpensive and tasty. The best places, all in Kobe are Moriya Shoten and Mizunoya Honten, both in Motomachi, and Maruyone in Nagata ward.
The Ramen Professor Recommends: If we crave ramen in Kobe we usually head to Tansuiken in Motomachi for some of those tasty thick wonton noodles. Mokkosu Souhonten at East Exit #1 of Kobe's Okurayama station, and the very humble Takeshima ramen in Nishide-machi, Hyogo ward are also good bets. If you feel like pushing out the boat, try Yazawa and their Kobe-gyu ramen.
FGL Favorite Tipple: Kobe's Higashi Nada ward, to the East of the city, is an absolute must-visit for anyone even faintly interested in sake, especially the informative Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum. In addition to their sakes, look out for Fukumusume, Kiku Masamune, Kembishi (brewers since 1505), Kokkan, Sakura Masamune, Sawa-no-tsuru and Daikoku Masamune. If you are up on the North sea coast, try Fukuchiya's Kasumizuru an affordable, drinkable, smooth early spring nigorizake.
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