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AT THE INN OF THE FORGOTTEN GEISHA

Foodies Go... Aomori!

At the Inn of the Forgotten Geisha 

Poets and artists have long been taken with the rugged beauty of Japan's northernmost prefecture, and staring out across the windswept sand-dunes of the 12km-long swathe of the Tanesashi Kaigan, I too feel happy to be back in Aomori. It's November, and the solitary Convenience Store has disabled its electric doors to preserve as much warmth as possible. The winter snows are already dusting the distant peak of the resplendent Mount Hakkoda, and I am eagerly anticipating... lunch.

Photo of the Inn of the Forgotten Geisha

 

 

Tanesashi Coast in Aomori

If someone from another planet came to earth and I were to tell them about the beauty of the earth, I would bring them to the Tanesashi coast - Ryotaro Shiba

On the other side of the prefecture from the Tanesashi coastline, the Fujimikan ryotei in Kuroishi was once a haven for local artists, poets and the rich and famous, who came to dine on fine Aomori kaiseki-style cuisine in the shadows of Kuroishi Jinya fortress ruins. I imagine novelist Ryotaro Shiba was amongst those to enjoy its culinary delights.

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Founded in Meiji 28, around the time Tchaikovsky was premiering 'Swan Lake' in St. Petersburg, and Americans were inventing the pencil and volleyball, Fujimikan is a wonderful throwback to a bygone era. Today it has been restored in perfect 'Taisho-era' Japanese-Western style, with diners eating at tables on tatami mats overlooking an ornamental carp pond and garden, where geisha once performed for the delights of the visiting clientele. "There's no-one left who remembers even their names, let alone where they were from, or the details of their lives," explains Mutsuko Odate, the current proprietress and great-granddaughter of the original founders. "All that remains are these faded images".

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And a real feast of a lunch. Like most of the people we meet on this trip, Mutsuko Odate-san is friendly, gregarious, and easy to move to laughter. She runs us through the menu with glee.

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Odate-san introduces us to the seasonally fresh sashimi platter - hotate scallops, maguro tuna and kanpachi mberjack - and a soy-based soup dish including the Shamu Rokku local jidori chicken, rolled into tsukune-style chicken balls.

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It's a most welcome, warming dish, served to each of us atop a small charcoal-burning stove known as a shichirin. Equally pleasing is the tempura of shrimp, mushrooms and vegetables, and unusually, delicious sweet corn, known locally as Dakekimi; kimi being the dialect word for sweet corn, and Dake the district famed for its production. The seared mackerel and seasoned tarako cod roe is just superb.

Aomori_0035.jpgThe mackerel is melt-in-your-mouth soft, and the cod roe - I suspect it is pickled in miso - to die for.
 

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My personal favorite is the hearty, local soup kenoshiruIt is my first taste in over a decade of this local specialty. It is a bold soup, filled with root vegetables and 'preserved' sansai mountain vegetables in a miso broth. As we'll see in the following article Aomori has had to developed sophisticated techniques for creating hozonshoku - literally preserved foods, that would see it through the long, harsh frozen winters, in the centuries before the advent of refrigeration and year-round availability.

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Thus the sansai in the kenoshiru soup have a slightly fermented quality, not overwhelming, but adding an extra tasty depth to the mildly smoky soup. Just the thing on a cold Aomori November lunchtime.

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Dessert is, naturally, an apple dish. Aomori is famous for its apples - on this trip we count at least 21 varieties - and they are at their very best from late October through early November, so we are spot on time. The baked apple with ice cream is deliciously sweet and flavorful.

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Before we take our leave, we are shown the photographs of the geisha who would perform at Fujimikan, their names and stories long forgotten. They stare from the faded black-and-white images, with that timeless geisha repose, reminding us that all things must pass, and thus it is also with this lovely meal. Time for us to move on. 

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If you enjoyed this article on Aomori, make sure to check out our overview of Aomori cuisine, and some some favorite local products. Also look out for the forthcoming article, The House of the Ladies of the Red Moon. And before you ask, no, they are not geisha...  

Fujimikan

Address: 2 Chome-63 Fukuroi, Kuroishi-shi, Aomori-ken 036-0355
Phone: 0172-52-8851

Find directions
Website (Japanese only)

Seats: 150
11am to 10pm
Irregular closing days

Lunch: ¥2000 ~ ¥3000;
Dinner: ¥3000 ~ ¥10000

Reservations required • Cash only • Smoking area available. 
John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local