Restauranteur Mitch Tonks discovers the foods & flavours of Shiga and Lake Biwa.
Japan’s lakeland paradise, just 10 minutes from Kyoto.
The locals simply call it “The Sea”. Lake Biwa is in Shiga Prefecture, butting up against the ancient capital of Kyoto, just a 10 minute train ride away. Known as Kyoto’s Garden, Shiga is a food lover’s paradise. For centuries its mountains and farmland have provided ingredients to some of the best kitchens in Japan, but the jewel is its lake, and the myriad of fish it contains, many only to be found in Lake Biwa’s waters: Biwa trout, a freshwater salmon unique to Lake Biwa, Nigoro-buna, a small carp used to make funazushi, the 1400-year-old origins of sushi and a local delicacy, or Higai, a small carp so favoured by Emperor Meiji that it has the imperial characters embedded in its name.
All this was what Mitch Tonks, UK chef and restauranteur, had come to see. First stop, Oki Island. A fishing village just a ten minute boat ride from Omi Hachiman, Oki Island is like stepping into another time. With no cars on the island, the main form of transport is tricycles, their baskets filled with fishing gear, fresh vegetables from the allotments, and more often than not cats! Lunch at Mizunosei Cafe on the waterfront is a feast of deep-fried lake shrimps, vegetable tempura and pickles, rice and soup, with every ingredient coming from the island or surrounding waters. Back on the mainland in Omi Hachiman, head to the Sanmatsu deli for some fabulous home-cooked takeaway dishes, and then stroll among the merchant’s houses and along the Hachiman Bori canal, seeped in samurai history.
A little further north is Hikone, with its castle perched on a hill. Leading to the main gates is Castle Street, beautifully restored to its 18th century splendour, and lined with shops selling delicacies old and new. Taste a selection of local teas at Mandokoroen, choose your favourite wagyu beef bento box from Sennaritei across the street, purveyors of the famous Omi Beef, the original wagyu brand with over 400 years of history. At Sazanami liquour store you can try a sample of local sakes, including Matsu No Tsukasa where Mitch was shown round the traditional brewery. Try Biwa trout wraps, or if you’re feeling brave maybe even funazushi ice-cream at Ayu no Kimura?
And when you have eaten your fill, take a stroll along the lakeshore, and watch the sun setting slowly into “The Sea”.
Kiki-cha Japanese Tea Tasting [Mandokoro-En]
Founded in 1756, Mandokoro-en is a teahouse specializing fine Japanese teas.
We have a wide selection of organic and agrichemical-free teas.
Special Perks: Original Hikonyan Tea Set with 5 types of tea.
Fee: 1200 yen (tax included)
Hours: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed: Tuesdays and Other Days
Address: Hikone, Honmachi 2-1-7 on Castle Road
Kaku-uchi Japanese Sake Tasting [Sazanami Liquor Shop]
Enjoy local Japanese sake!
Special Perks: Tsukudani (small fish simmered in soy sauce, great with sake!)
Fee: 490 yen (tax included)
Hours: 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Address: Hikone, Sawa-cho 11-9
Ohmi Beef [Sennaritei in Castle Road]
Hours: 9:30 AM to18:30 PM
Address: Hikone Gyuseum 1nd floor, 1-1-26 Honmachi, Hikone
Sweet Fish [Ayuno-mise-Kimura]
Hours: 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM (Summer), 11:00 AM- 5:30 PM (Winter)
Address: 2-1-5 Honmachi, Hikone
Sweet Fish [Okumura Food]
Hours: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Address: 27 Osugi-cho, Ohmihachiman
Sushi [Hisago Sushi]
Hours: 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM (Sunday), 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM
Address: 213-3 Sakuramiya-cho, Ohmihachiman