Good Eats: Sarasa (Kumamoto Prefecture)

Following on the heels of my last post on Mt Aso, this is my newest absolute favorite find in my new home prefecture of Kumamoto. Coming down from the Nakadake crater, my travel buddy and I were looking for something more to eat than your standard noodles or curry restaurant. A quick iphone search of kaiseki cuisine in Kumamoto turned up very few options, but one option jumped out at me immediately.

When I say Sarasa is a hidden gem, the emphasis is definitely on the hidden part. Under a cement torii gate, down a one lane road, past rice paddies, through a dense bamboo and evergreen forest … thankfully, there are red and brown signs pointing the way every 100m. I felt a bit like Hansel and Gretel, following a trail someone else had (blessedly) laid.

Sarasa Kaiseki Restaurant
Sarasa Kaiseki Restaurant

The restaurant is modeled after an old style country ryokan – burnished hardwood floors, alcoves decorated with beautiful washi (handmade paper) artifacts and individual tatami rooms for each dining party. All rooms look out onto the sizable garden – we watched the rain patter down on the mossy flagstones and the sole remaining leaves of a fiery maple while waiting for our meal.

The interior of Sarasa
The interior of Sarasa

And oh, what a meal. Granted, I am an unapologetic fan of kaiseki food. I love all the myriad tastes on one plate, the bite-sized portions, the emphasis on seasonality. And Sarasa didn’t disappoint. We had three courses, but each course was made up of at least 7 or 8 individual dishes. Being late autumn, we had several mushroom dishes – mushroom and octopus chawan mushi (egg custard), mushroom salad with citrus dressing and a mushroom and tofu dish with yuzu dressing. Other nibbles included deep fried sesame mochi, pickled zucchini and scallop, agedashi tofu with crab and poached pear gratin. My main dish of shrimp and scallop was cooked to perfection on my tray by a lava rock

Our second course
Our second course

The staff at Sarasa don’t speak English and the menu is entirely in Japanese. but there are really only two main choices (complete with pictures) – a ¥3675 meal and a ¥4725 meal. We chose the less expensive one – I can’t imagine where I would put the extra food from the other option … our meal was more than enough!

After your meal, it’s worth taking a stroll around the tiny village of Nishihara. According to the signposts, there are a number of coffee shops and art gallerys to peruse and many of the village homes are great examples of old-style Japanese farmhouses.

Sarasa has a beautiful website that you can translate with any online software.

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