Hakone, accessible from Tokyo within 2 hours by train, is best known as an onsen (hot spring) town in Japan. Almost everyone staying in Tokyo, or visiting Tokyo will make a trip to the picturesque onsen town at least once in their lives. The main focus of visiting Hakone is usually to relax and enjoy the therapeutic hot spring waters while immersing yourself in the gorgeous natural scenery. Because of that, local food specialties in Hakone are often missed out by travellers who want to maximise their time in the onsens and simply have little time left to check out the delicacies. This article will direct you to the top nine local food specialties you should try when in the onsen town, so that you can enjoy good food, sightseeing and onsen all at one go!
1. Black egg, the signature delicacy of Hakone
Black egg, or kuro tamago (くろたまご) as the locals call it, is made by boiling raw eggs in 80-degrees-Celsius (176-degrees-Fahrenheit) hot spring water for about an hour. After which the eggs are transferred to a steaming pot of 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes. The egg shells turn black due to a chemical reaction with geothermal heat and volcanic gas.
Since Hakone is a renowned onsen town, you should not miss this local specialty that is found at the famous Owakudani hot springs. Eating the kuro tamago is not only nutritious and tasty, but it is believed that you will add seven years to your life and be blessed with good luck too. Just remember not to eat more than two and a half eggs, which is believed to bring bad luck. Regardless whether the belief is true or not, the recommended intake of eggs should not exceed 3 daily for safe consumption, so eat safely!
2. Hakone tofu, the health food suitable for all ages
Because of its strategic location, Hakone is blessed with plenty of pure natural hot spring water, which is used a lot in the process of making food. Hakone tofu, or yuba, is one good example that uses the natural spring water in the tofu-making process. The tofu in Hakone has a particularly delicate and smooth texture that is easy on the palate. It is also a highly nutritious food that is suitable for all ages to eat. So grab the opportunity to taste more of this local specialty when you are in the lovely onsen town!
3. Soba, Hakone’s trademark staple food
Besides the delicate and healthy tofu cuisine, Hakone’s delicious natural spring water is also used to make soba, or thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. Soba is served in so many restaurants in the onsen town, so much so that it replaces rice to become the main course for your meals in Hakone. This tasty noodle cuisine can be served cold or hot, accompanied by delicious sides such as tofu, tempura or vegetables.
4. Japanese yam, a great side dish to your bowl of soba
Another great accompaniment to the delicious soba cuisine is the Japanese yam (山芋). Hakone is a mountainous region which makes it a conducive environment to grow these healthy mountain yams. The Japanese yam is characterised by its gluey and slimy texture when they are grated. Locals love to eat the yam raw, in grated form, and as a side to their soba dish. While some may be turned off by its unique taste and texture, this is a dish that can be quite addictive after a while with its cool texture and fragrant aroma! It is also a health food known to facilitate faster healing and promote growth of healthy tissues.
5. Wakasagi smelt, one of the top 100 local specialties in Kanagawa
Since ancient times, Wakasagi, a type of freshwater fish found in Lake Ashi in Hakone, has been enjoyed as a local cuisine. The small freshwater fish is usually deep fried or soft boiled and served on skewers to go with rice. You can take the scenic boat cruise along Lake Ashi to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, thereafter proceed to a Japanese restaurant by the lake. Continue to immerse yourself in the magnificent view while relishing in this tasty fish specialty.
6. Kamaboko, colourful fish cake to brighten up your day
Although Hakone is located in a mountainous region, it is surrounded by the seaports of Odawara and Numazu. Therefore, you will be able to find various types of seafood produce in Hakone too. Kamaboko (蒲鉾:かまぼこ), which means fish cake, is a processed seafood product that uses white fish puree. Red and white kamaboko are most commonly served because these two colours are believed to bring good luck. The delicious fish cake is usually served in soups, or can be eaten on its own as a snack too. Not just a pretty sight to look at, the colourful kamaboko is also rich in proteins yet low in calories. Regardless whether it is served alongside your soupy dish or as a snack on the go, let it brighten up your day in Hakone.
7. Surimi dumplings, great seafood snack to cure your hunger pangs
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
If you like kamaboko, I am sure you will love the surimi dumplings (すり身団子) as well. These dumplings are stuffed with seasonal vegetables as well as white fish paste that is used in making kamaboko. They are fried till golden brown and taste irresistibly crispy and yummy, a perfect finger food to satisfy your craving for something savoury. These mouth-watering dumplings are good to complement with rice or noodles too.
8. Onsen manju, sweet azuki bean paste bun you can’t resist
Last but not least, there is the popular onsen manju, a traditional Japanese steamed bun filled with sweet azuki bean paste. The onsen manju is a specialty of onsen resorts, because it is steamed with water from the hot spring. Since Hakone is filled with numerous awesome onsens, you must try this local delight while relaxing in one of the many hot spring baths. These Japanese sweets are ideal for tea or dessert time. If you can’t get enough of them, you can even buy the nicely wrapped souvenir packages of onsen manju to share with your loved ones back home!
9. Hakone Beer, an award-winning beer regionally and internationally
Although the Hakone Beer was only licensed to make beer since 2000, special mention must be made to this relatively young brand, as their beers have won several awards in both the International Beer Competition and the Asia Beer Cup. Brewed using water from the iron-free mountain hot springs in the area, the unique quality of the spring water sets their beers apart from the other beers in Japan. Try Hakone Beer made with the delicious spring water and taste the difference for yourself.
Enjoy these delightful Hakone specialties during your trip
Now that you have the list of local delicacies in Hakone, I am sure you cannot wait to fill your stomach with yummy treats in between all the onsen hopping and sightseeing. Planning where to go for your meals and snacks is as exciting as planning for the other parts of the trip. Have a great time in Hakone and itadakimasu (enjoy your food)!
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