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What to Eat in Kusatsu Onsen

In Japan, a trip to a traditional onsen town is never simply about taking a dip in the hot springs—a trip to Kusatsu is not complete without sampling some of the local treats. At Kusatsu, one can find the usual resort town suspects and uniquely local delicacies. The surrounding hills and agricultural land provide the raw materials to the culinary craftspeople that have set up shop in the streets around the hot springs.

  • Manju

    Manju

    Manju

    The humble manju, originally an import from China, although seven centuries have gone by since the snack was domesticated, comes in many shapes and sizes but usually hides a sweet filling inside a soft dome composed of some combination of wheat flour, rice flour or buckwheat. In Kusatsu, the local onsen manju comes in various makes and models but with one common ingredient: mineral-rich waters from Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, either in the form of the steam used to cook the manju or added directly to the flour.

    Manju

    Manju

    Although a multicolored assortment of manju is available, with fillings like chestnut and green pea paste, one of the favorites in Kusatsu is a manju with brown sugar steamed into its pillowy jacket and a filling of red bean paste. The dank steamy sweetness of these manju makes them the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up when enjoyed with a hot cup of tea. But there is another indefinable or perhaps even theoretical pleasure: these onsen manju are distinctly of the place, enriched with minerals leached from the surrounding mountain by subterranean streams...

  • Yakitori

    Yakitori

    Yakitori

    In the sometimes lengthy queues in front of Shizuka Yakitori, the smell of onsen water from the Yubatake, the "hot water field", mixes with the aroma of charcoal and incinerating chicken fat. The shop goes with the classics: every part of the chicken (wings, liver, gizzard, etc. and tender chicken meatballs), skewered and grilled over charcoal.

    Yakitori

    Yakitori

    Shizuka do most of their business as takeout. While the shop is open (from 3pm to around 9pm, but they do close earlier when they run out of the day’s ingredients), there is often a lineup, but there is also the option of trying for one of the few seats at the counter inside.

  • Onsen tamago

    Onsen tamago

    Onsen tamago

    Nowadays, most supermarkets stock a runny onsen tamago but it’s a rare treat to eat it at an actual hot spring. The onsen tamago is something like primitive sous-vide cooking: the temperature of the hot spring is just right to cook an egg with a barely-set white and a perfectly warm and creamy yolk. After enough time in the onsen, the baskets are raised, and the eggs can be served in a custardy mess solo in a bowl with a drizzle of soy or dashi, or laid over some of the local soba.

  • Soba noodles

    Soba noodles

    Soba noodles

    Buckwheat, soba's main ingredient, grows best at cooler, loftier elevations like those in the highlands of Gunma Prefecture. The soba also provides a canvas for local produce, cast in airy golden brown tempura batter. The perfect time to visit the hot springs, mid-Autumn, coincides with the maitake season, and the soba shops of Kusatsu serve the mushroom alongside soba in a number of ways.

    Kusatsu Onsen
    Address
    Gunma Pref. Agatsumagunkusatsumachi Kusatsu
    Phone
    0279887188
    Yakitori Shizuka
    Address
    Gunma Pref. Agatsumagunkusatsumachi Kusatsu 396
    Phone
    0279882364
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