The Irori Cafe in Makabe, Japan

Last Friday, as a part of a tour, some of our students took us to Inaba Brewery in Ibaraki, Japan. After visiting Makabe, an older-Ibaraki town, for an early Hina Matsuri showcase (I’ll tell you more about that on March 3rd…you’ll understand why later). We stopped at theいろりカフェ, 囲炉裏カフェ, Irori Cafeto grab a nice, hearty lunch. Lunch consisted of a local specialty soup made with a delicious broth, soba noodles, and these small dumplings called suiton (すいとん). For dessert, we had a lightly-sweetened soft-bean jam which was was the perfect accent to a hearty lunch. It’s hard to explain, but this food reminded me of the agar you used in the petrei dishes we used for science experiments. I know that’s maybe a bad comparison, but it did taste good.

Behind the cafe, there was a second, old-style building where you could go just to have Tsukuba pudding. The prices were for the regular style pudding and for the caramel-flavored pudding. I ordered the caramel pudding and had a chance to taste the regular pudding as well. Both were really good, but the original was slightly better to me. If you read my post on the differences between Japanese and American Sweets, you know that Japanese pudding is amazingly tasty.

To give a run down of this place, yes, I liked it quite a bit. Because it was a snowy day, and rather cold, the restaurant was also a bit chilly, even with the small fire in the middle of the room. So every kept their jackets on to keep warm. The other bad thing was the seating. I’m not so good at sitting in seiza, sitting on my heels, for long periods of time, so I had to keep adjusting to get comfortable, but it never happened. If you’re used to sitting in seiza, though, this won’t be a problem for you.

Aside from these minor issues I thought the restaurant was awesome because it was the owner was telling us the building is 160 years old. I’m sure renovations have been done (Gareth, one of my fellow teachers, made a joke that the electronic exit sign had must have been there for 100 years, too). But that’s pretty awesome, right? How many hotels or restaurants in the U.S. that you know of have been around for 160 years?!? I can’t think of any. To imagine that people that must have gone through that place, what that building has been through, it’s fascinating just thinking about it.

Another cool thing about this restaurant was that it doubles as both a restaurant and a traditional style inn. When you walk through this place, it has old-style Japan written all over it. The walls, the wood beam supports, the tatami floors, and the abnormally steep stair-cases. Even the area where we sat to eat and a traditional feel with all of us seated around a small sand-pit in the center of the floor with a small cauldron cooking over a fire.

The menu selection is limited and there seating isn’t comfortable, but if you visit the Irori cafe, you won’t be disappointed.

Donald Ash

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