Eating Well (and other fun things) in Kanazawa, Japan
|The impressive torii at Kanazawa JR Station
Where to Stay
I lodged at the MyStays in Kanazawa, but suggest you look elsewhere. While the room was great because the hotel was still very new, the location was a little out of the way. It was a shortish 10 minute walk from the train station, but in a direction away from most of the places you are likely to be interested in. Also, booking restaurants really needs the help of a good concierge in most parts of Japan, and the services here were frustratingly lacking. I would choose somewhere on the east side of the JR station, rather than the west.
Where to Eat
Kanazawa is uniquely placed in Japan for the quality of the food it has access to. It might have something to do with the intensely changeable weather. In mid March we had rain, snow, hail, wind and even a bit of sunshine, so pack appropriately. I think this weather contributes to the quality of the fertile and mountainous land around Kanazawa which lends itself to the famous kaga vegetables, while the proximity to Toyoma and the Sea of Japan brings unique seafood into Kanazawa before it reaches elsewhere in Japan.
|Sweet potato soft serve in a donut cone from the Omicho Market, Kanazawa
Otomezushi (no website that I could find) has such a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. I think it might be down to the combination of the affable master Kazuhiko Tsurumi, who effortlessly took care of the sushi, and a female "sous chef" who looked like a total bad ass while carving up chunks of fish with her massive knives or while tending the binchotan grill. Maybe it was this yin/yang, or perhaps it was the more regional location that made Otomezushi such a fun meal.
It's not an inexpensive meal though. The cost for two with a lot of food and a reasonable amount of sake was just shy of Y30,000. This is cheaper than a similar meal in Tokyo though. We exited into a hail storm, breaking the enchantment of the evening with a cold thud. I told you Kanazawa was unpredictable.
Zeniya was our blow out kappa kaiseki meal in Kanazawa. Chef Shinichiro Takagi is highly regarded in Japan, although it wasn't him overseeing our meal but his brother. Their mother was one of the staff, as was the chef's wife, so it's clear that the passion for food runs in the family. The room is very simple with around seven seats facing the open kitchen where the preparation and grilling takes place. The tiles reminded me a little of 70s Australian kitchens so it's not the most modern of settings.
|Torigai at Zeniya, Kanazawa
One of the best grilled fish dishes I've ever had followed. While we had nodoguro at Otomezushi, the preparation at Zeniya was astounding. It was topped with corn starch and kinome and had been grilled and basted for what seemed like a long time. The fish remained tender and had incredible depth of flavour. I don't really think the soft-boiled egg added that much to the dish, but what's not to like about it.
|Shabu shabu at Zeniya, Kanazawa
Very good English was spoken by the staff, making Zeniya an easy option for foreign tourists, but there's no getting around the fact that it is expensive. We chose the top Y23,000 menu, which hit almost Y60,000 for two with sake, tax and service. The food was high quality and the service was charming, but I feel like I had better value meals at this price point elsewhere in Japan. With that said, I would still recommend Zeniya.
Ippudo is a great quality standby wherever you are in Japan. On a freezing evening a bowl of ramen really hits the spot. I had the premium Akamuru set and I rate their fried gyoza as some of the tastiest I've eaten too. The location is central making it an easy pit stop for a cheap and cheerful lunch or dinner.
|Chicken and mushroom udon at Fukuwauchi, Kanazawa
|Udon set at Fukuwauchi, Kanazawa
The Kanazawa tourist information website is very useful so it's a good place to start your planning. I run through my favourite spots below. There are other high profile attractions to visit, but I didn't really love the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. I think this was because they were rehanging part of the space so there was little of interest apart from the cool swimming pool and the, umm, somewhat vaginal Anish Kapoor installation. Also, I didn't think the Nishi Chaya geisha district was worth the trek. We did find some tofu ice cream nearby, but apart from that there really wasn't much to see.
|Leandro Erlich's The Swimming Pool at the 21 Century Museum of Contemporary Modern
The Kenroku-en garden is considered one of the three most beautiful in Japan. Unfortunately when I visited, it was about a week or two before the cherry blossoms would bloom, so much of the park was still pretty barren in the frigid wind. The plum blossoms were out though and the lovely grove with multiple varieties was a great place to wander. It was also fascinating to inspect the interesting method for protecting the branches of the ancient trees that you can see in the photos below. Kanazawa receives a lot of snow in the winter meaning the tree branches could collapse under the accumulated weight, but the intricate rope work prevents this.
|Scenes from Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa
|Wagashi in the Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa
Although it sounds twee, the well restored samurai district was actually one of my favourite spots in Kanazawa. I enjoyed wandering over the small bridges and around the streets with their earthen walls and weathered wood.
|Mud walls in the Samurai district, Kanazawa
|Garden view at the Nomura Samurai Family Residence
|The garden of the Nomura Samurai Family Residence, Kanazawa
|Screens at the Nomura Samurai Residence, Kanazawa
|Wagashi and matcha at the Nomura Samurai Residence, Kanazawa
|Omicho market, Kanazawa
Higashi Chaya district
Higashi Chaya retains the charm of the Edo period and is where you will find traditional tea houses being tended by geisha. It is said to be a more manageable version of Gion, but we didn't spot any geisha when we were there. Maybe it's more atmospheric after dark. Despite this, the area is definitely a must see to check out the weathered architecture and the number of independent artisan stores there. I bought some beautiful handcrafted wood items like chopsticks and a presentation bowl as well as a ceramic vase from Kihachi Kobo which is one of the oldest producers of wood-turned products in the region. There are also quite a few teahouses to stop at.
|Higashi Chaya district, Kanazawa
|Wagashi and hojicha at Morihachi, Kanazawa
|Post snow shower in the Utatsuyama district, Kanazawa
|Gold leaf ice cream from Ukokkei in Higashi Chaya, Kanazawa