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Fermented Cafe: Aogen Kobo – Eatsunomiya

I know this title doesn’t sound too appetizing, but stay with me here for a second. After all, you already clicked on this link, so might as well, right?

“Fermented” is such an ugly word–indeed, the restaurant prefers to call itself by the romanized version of the Japanese word, “Hakko Cafe,” but then that loses its meaning for my English speaking audience. Now let’s think about what that could mean for a second. Cheese, yogurt, pickles, natto, miso, kimchi–there’s a lot of delicious things that go through the ugly worded process known as “fermentation.” Japanese cuisine even features some fermented things that I’ve never heard of, but will commence with an explanation here. Now let’s get started with this review, shall we?

I first walked into this place looking for red miso (missing my Nagoya days). I couldn’t find a very good selection on Amazon (I’ll have to pay one more visit after this, though), or in our local supermarket, so I decided to stumble into this store, which is primarily a miso specialty store. The old lady running the register was very friendly, gave me a free piece of miso candy, and offered me a recommendation, which unfortunately still was too white to be the deep and rich mame-miso which I became so used to in Nagoya. Before leaving, I noticed that the upstairs doubles as a cafe in the afternoons, and made a note to visit it again, which I did a few weeks later.

 

The upstairs is small and simple, so not the best to go with a big group to. You have 3 meals to choose from which rotate every now and again, so nothing overwhelming. I decided on the tofu hanbaagu, in which tofu is mixed in with the meat to give it a very soft and juicy texture, which also came with a side of salad with pickled bell peppers, Japanese pickles, a bowl of rice, chilled tofu with mushrooms, and a giant bowl of miso soup. The hanbaagu had the double whammy fermentation (although sure, I realize that tofu isn’t exactly “fermented,” but it does go through a special preservation process) in it, as it also had kouji (the fungus used to ferment miso), and was quite good. The salad was also fresh, and the miso on the whole was good. I have to take off a few points for what I believe to be one bit of moldy-tasting taro in the soup, although in a place that specializes in essentially edible fungus and bacteria, I do acknowledge that this is a “Well, what can you do” (shou ga nai) sort of thing if it happens occasionally.

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However, the meal does not stop there–nor did it actually begin there either! While I was waiting for my main meal, the friendly obaasan gave me a type of fermented wheat yogurt-type of drink, which is really hard to describe, so I just won’t and you’ll need to try it yourself. It’s not bad, but not necessarily good either–something you get for free and you drink, and it also seems to be good for you, so added bonus there. Bottom line: Why not?

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The meal formally ends with the dessert of the week. In my case, it was a fluffy slice of Japanese cake with pumpkin cream. The catch? There’s miso in the cake, although don’t despair squeamish readers, it’s a pretty trace amount of miso. (I had miso umeshu in Nagoya, and it tasted oddly like coke. If a restaurant offers you something abnormal with miso in it, it’s best to trust them, because they’re normally pretty good ideas.) It was nice and light, and very good–however, again, I have to dock a few points off for one bite of something that tasted a bit too moldy (although again, not necessarily because they use low-quality old food. Shou ga nai ne).

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I left feeling completely detoxed (I’m pretending I know what that actually means ha), refreshed, and extremely full after all that food. And the grand total?

A mere ¥1080 for everything, plus the love your body will give you for eating all that fermented food (the entire back portion of their menu is devoted to the myriad perks of miso–which range from diabetes and breast cancer prevention to lower blood pressure and cholesterol to great skin).

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It’s safe to say I’ll be back again.

 

Hakko Cafe – Aogen Kobo
028-625-3663
宇都宮市本町13-12
Store hours: 10 am – 6 pm
Cafe hours: 10 am – 4 pm
Closed Sundays and holidays
Find them on Facebook

 

Featured image credit here.

Author Bio
Kelsey Lechner

Kelsey Lechner

This dog-loving former Tochigi CIR hails from its sister-state of Indiana and loves traveling the world and eating everything. She graduated after completing a thesis discussing the links between human trafficking and idol culture, and now works in Tokyo for an international human rights NGO.

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