While Nagano Prefecture’s geography is not conducive to growing rice, it is absolutely perfect for buckwheat. Thanks to the experimentation of the Jomon people thousands of years ago, we can now enjoy things like soba noodles, soba flour and even soba tea. But there’s another, lesser-known dish you should definitely seek out in Nagano called oyaki. These fist-sized dumplings are made with a blended buckwheat flour, stuffed with local produce like mnushrooms, pickles, vegetables or beans, then steamed, pan-fried or grilled and served hot. They’re the perfect way to sample all of Nagano’s finest ingredients in one savoury package. You’ll find them all across the prefecture, but for some of the best oyaki in Nagano, head to Ogawanosho.
Ogawanosho: famous for oyaki
Ogawanosho opened in 1986 in a renovated farmhouse within the scenic rural village of Ogawa. This idyllic spot is about 30 minutes’ drive west of Nagano city and allows visitors to sample traditional Nagano dishes in an equally traditional setting. Not only do they produce a hec of a lot of oyaki for the wider community, but they also run a restaurant where you can enjoy soba as well as their signature dumplings.
Oyaki is very much a low food mile type dish. Everything is locally sourced, and you can try different fillings depending on what’s in season. Typical fillings include mushroom, azuki red bean, pumpkin, eggplant, or ‘nozawana’—a pickled leafy green from Nozawa Onsen. However, Ogawanosho actually offer over twenty different fillings, things like nira (chives and miso), kinpira (burdock root and carrot), kiriboshi daikon (dried daikon radish), hijiki seaweed and even apple! On the whole, they are savoury, flavoured with soy and miso, and typically vegetarian, too!
Freshly Grilled Dumplings
Oyaki can be served in many ways; more often than not, I’ll see them steamed in wooden boxes. But what makes these oyaki extra delicious is that they are cooked over the open flame of the irori sunken hearth. This gives them a beautiful smoky flavour and makes them equally complex and comforting.
Oyaki in Nagano city: Daimon branch
If you’re not able to get out to Ogawa Village, there’s a convenient second location near Zenkoji Temple. It’s easy to find as it sits on Chuo-dori, the main thoroughfare connecting Nagano Station to the famous Zenkoji temple. You’ll find the ‘Daimon branch’ in the ‘Patio Daimon’ shopping complex, which is made up of renovated storehouses.
At the Daimon branch, you enter and exit through the gift shop where you can shop for frozen oyaki packs to enjoy later. However, you’ll want to head to the back of the store where the master presides over the irori hearth. It feels as though you’ve stepped back in time into someone’s dark old hut; there, you can sit and enjoy your oyaki, fresh off the grill.
Note that if you arrive at the end of the day, you can still order, but you won’t get the cooking show.
We couldn’t help but both order the eggplant (nasu) oyaki, which is one of their most popular fillings. Hand to my heart, it was the best oyaki I have ever eaten. The wrapping was less cakey than others and it had extremely generous fillings. With perfectly seasoned eggplant, and at less than 200 yen a pop, it’s a must-try when in Nagano.
A quick bite
If you just have a short stopover at Nagano Station, good news: there’s a third location in the Midori building attached to the station. And for those who can’t get to Nagano but are inspired to try some Ogawanosho oyaki, you can always order from their online store. (Japan delivery only.) We hope you’re inspired to seek out oyaki to experience the wonderful combination of Nagano’s best flavours.
Post by Japan Journeys.