Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
Once the temple grounds started to become really crowded, we crossed the Uji bridge again and reached the famous Okage Yokocho Street. Built from the Edo era to the Meiji era, this small alleyway extending across 13,200 square meters has relocated and reproduced some historic Japanese architecture. It’s a kind of theme park where you can slip back to the Japan of several hundred years ago. You can look for specialty souvenirs such as yasunaga rice cakes and akafuku, and enjoy strolling around the gourmet restaurants associated with Mie Prefecture.
If you’re hungry, the specialty dish of fukusuke udon noodles comes highly recommended. With its thick soft noodles simmered gently over time added to a combination of soy sauce and soup stock, simple udon is often enjoyed with toppings such as green onions. The fukusuke version of udon has a richer soup, benefiting from the deeper taste of natural soup stock. The soup is dark, with a delicate flavor—enough to make you want to drain it to the last drop. Okageyokocho Lane is home to a variety of stores, including the Kitcho Shofukutei store where you can buy sell popular maneki neko cat-themed items. There is a wide range of souvenir shops here with an array of specialty souvenirs and crafts, not to mention restaurants where you can enjoy delicious cuisine.
For the Japanese, the souvenir of Ise that first comes to mind is the akafuku. This sweet treat consists of smooth-textured bean jam and a soft rice cake in it. The akafuku was created in the area around Ise Shrine in 1707. Streaks of red bean paste on the surface are said to represent the flow of the Isuzugawa River, and visitors to Ise Shrine have been enjoying the sweet taste of akafuku for over 300 years. Due to the Ise Shrine’s visiting hours, the stores all open at 5 am. These venerable establishments have accompanied Ise Shrine pilgrims for years.
We tasted a lot of different things, starting from the famous fukusuke udon noodles, to all sorts of street food and sweets. Everything was delicious, but the one thing that I will always remember was a sea urchin (see the picture below), halved and cooked on the grill and served steaming hot with a glass of hot sake. An absolutely perfect combination of flavours that I recommend anyone to try at least once!