Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant
At an old farm building located just outside the country town of Takehara, Mrs. Nishino and her friends are serving up country-style food and hospitality that aim to nourish the well-being of their guests.
Seven years ago, Mrs. Nishino fixed up a 100-year-old farm building that was once used for Kagura dances, a lively Shinto dance that celebrates the seasons, on the outskirts of Takehara and opened Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant. Inviting her neighbors to come cook with her to offer a lunchtime meal to guests, they began serving inaka ryori, or country cooking. Its style is straight-forward: homemade dishes and seasonal, natural, and locally-sourced ingredients. All the vegetables and rice used at the restaurant are grown organically, the miso is handmade, the seafood is caught wild nearby from the Seto Inland Sea, and the occasional chicken and meat dishes come from local farms.
Mrs. Nishino was already well-known in the area as a creative home cook, and the country fare joyfully prepared and served at Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant, while straight-forward, is far from simple. The dashi stock that's used in many of the dishes has been gently simmering away in her kitchen for the past ten years; each day she adds new konbu, katsuobushi, and small dried iriko, or anchovy, to the sea broth to replenish what has been taken out. The robust, complex, and thoroughly satisfying flavor of her dashi evokes primal memories for anyone who tastes it.
Another special ingredient is the restaurant's jaga-koji, or fermented potato paste. Koji pastes are a fermented mash usually made from rice, barley, or soybeans that has been inoculated with koji kin, the mold Asperiguillus oryzae, and combined with salt and water. Used for centuries in Japan as a seasoning and flavoring, koji pastes are salty, slightly sweet in taste, are loaded with umami, and have an almost-miraculous ability to preserve, cure, and flavor foods. Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant's unique jaga-koji is a light, creamy, and nutty-tasting paste that the restaurant uses to to enrich the flavor of vegetables, marinate meats, and as a final flavoring in soups and stews.
The omakase lunch sets are a mix of seasonal vegetable dishes and seafood while the daily specials are a changing array of tofu and seaweed salads, braised vegetable and meat dishes, and pickles and rice balls. On the weekend, the cooks outdo themselves with an all-you-can-eat buffet that regularly includes new items as they compete to create new dishes.
A Passion for Potatoes and Croquettes
What the restaurant is especially proud of are the Yoshina potatoes grown on Mrs. Nishino's small, lovingly-cared for, family-run farm. The Yoshina district of Takehara City is famous for its potatoes. In fact, from 1952 to 1964, Yoshina potatoes commanded the highest price of all potatoes in Japan, being prized for their rich, sweet taste. Growing in a more southerly region than is typical for potatoes, Yoshina potatoes get the cool nights they need in the mountainsides along the Seto Inland Sea while also benefitting from the region’s warm days and generous rainfall, making them intensely flavorful and sweet—almost fruit-like.
At Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant, Yoshina potatoes are served in every possible manner—from a classic Japanese niku-jaga, or meat and vegetable stew, to an English shepherd's pie. But the small, round potato croquettes are considered the restaurant's prize. Included in every meal and available a la carte or to take home, they combine the sweetness of Yoshina potatoes with a variety of seasonal chopped vegetables to create an intensely flavorful and more nutritional croquette.
The food at Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant is made more delicious by the joyful hospitality of the women who cook it. The aim is to serve food that nourishes the well-being of the guests in addition to being healthy and flavorful. Their cooking is based on a set of traditional country values that encompass the ingredients, the act of cooking, and the spirit of the cook:
Hon mono, or true things. Truth and honesty are the most important values in daily life, and only ingredients that are natural and locally produced are used.
Shun no mono, or seasonal things. Daily life is lived in harmony with nature, and the ingredients are seasonal and the dishes appropriate for the time of year.
Aji kagen, or balance of flavor. Harmony in all things is another key ingredient to a well-lived life, and harmonious flavor is created in each dish and across a set of dishes in a meal.
Shimatsu, or wastefulness. Out of respect for nature, everything is put to good use. For example, mushroom stems are used to enrich a stock, vegetable peels are sauteed to make small side dishes, and tasty dishes are created using odd pieces of seafood and meats.
Omotenashi, or hospitality, includes several aspects to support the well-being of the guests: serving food that is nutritional and comforting, selecting food that matches the mood and desires of the guests, and lastly, creating an atmosphere of enjoyment and care. At Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant, the cooks mingle with their guests and bring them special treats from the kitchen to taste—all to the sound of bouncy 1970s Showa-era tunes playing in the background. As Mrs. Nishino says, "we finish all of our dishes with a grandmother's warmth and smile."
Story & Photos: Tom Schiller
Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant
Takehara, Hiroshima Prefecture 2474
Tel: +81 (0846) 28 0284
Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant is open daily for lunch from 11:00 to 14:00 except for Monday. The restaurant is open on national holidays that fall on a Monday but is closed the following Tuesday. During the weekend, the only offering is an all-you-can-eat buffet for ¥1,500. Reservations are advised.
Located about a 10-minute ride outside of Takehara, a country town located roughly midway between the port of Onomichi and Hiroshima City, you will need a car or taxi to get to the restaurant. Or you can take the local Kure Line train from Takehara to the Yoshina stop and get a taxi from there. This is helpful if you want to continue on by train to the small fishing village of Akitsu, the next station after Yoshina. With a shore lined with the oyster fields that the Hiroshima Bay area is famous for, Akitsu is the birthplace of ginjo sake and is still home to several great brewers, including Imada Shuzo. Akitsu is also known for its own unique potato, the aka-jaga, or red potato. Aka-jaga is a large, waxy potato with a sweet, nutty taste that keeps its flavor and shape no matter how long you cook it. They are great roasted, fried, braised in long-simmered dishes, or boiled for salads.
Where To Buy
Nishino Farmhouse Restaurant's jaga-koji fermented potato paste, frozen versions of its potato croquettes, and potato ice cream can be bought at the restaurant while its Yoshina potatoes can also be bought at the Michi no Eki, or roadside marketplace, in Takehara. The Michi no Eki is conveniently located on the eastern edge of the town's historic district.