Friday, December 24, 2010

Ume no Hana

Eating at Ume no Hana (梅の花) was so wonderful that I felt it deserved a post of its own. If you've ever watched Japanese variety shows, you've probably seen the guests take a bite of some culinary delight and then practically jump up and down with exclamations of 'oishii!!!' and 'mmmmmm!!!' and 'ehhhhhhhhhh!!!'. Well, from the first taste I had at Ume, I finally understood how they felt!

Entrance (top) and entryway (bottom) of Ume no Hana - it took a while for me to figure out where the restaurant is as it's a bit off the beaten path, but luckily there were signs (in Japanese). Rough Guide's map is, well, rough. :(

Ume no Hana is a restaurant chain specializing in tofu. They have several branches in Japan, but apparently the nicest is in Dazaifu, and since I was going there anyway I decided to check it out. The restaurant is set in a garden and each diner or group of diners is given a private tatami room, some of which have windows overlooking the garden (unfortunately I got a stone wall view instead). You enter the rooms through doors that are only 3-4 feet high, so you have to crouch to enter (but the rooms have normal height ceilings so you can fully stand up once inside). The tables are traditional, floating over a depression in the floor where you can put your legs. You sit on seats on the tatami mats that have backrests. It's very comfortable.

Door to enter the room. Only the bottom half is an actual door!

Alcove with decoration.

While you can choose individual items, I decided to try one of the sets instead. Each set comprises a several-course meal, with each course consisting of several small plates of food. The first course was a tofu dish with a green sauce:

You'll see that almost all the pictures have bites out of them already - the food looked and tasted so good that I got a little carried away before I remembered to take the photos! This dish was really lovely - if you think tofu is boring or plain you need to try the tofu at this restaurant! It was so creamy and really did 'melt in your mouth', as the Rough Guide claimed it would.

Next came the yudofu. This is a dish of boiled tofu and some veggies that are cooked in front of you. You then put a little in a bowl and add some freshly grated ginger, ground sesame seeds, and soy sauce. It was also excellent, but I couldn't finish it because there was still so many things to try, and there was quite a lot of it! Portions are not a problem at this restaurant.


While waiting for the yudofu to finish cooking, two other dishes arrived: a bento box with three drawers, each containing an assortment of different foods, and a dish of shuumai (dumpling). The dumpling had a little mustard, which was very strong and went perfectly with the dumpling, as well as a special dipping sauce:

The bento box contained veggies, some small tofu items, and sashimi, and was very nicely presented:

After these came a gratin dish. The box was very pretty:

This was followed by tofu salad (also containing melt-in-your-mouth tofu) and a custard with shrimp, mushrooms, and ginko nuts. Unfortunately the lighting wasn't very good and the pictures turned out a little blurry (didn't use my DSLR):

Finally, dessert was youkan accompanied by hojicha, two of my favorite Japanese treats:

All in all this was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in Japan or otherwise! In addition to great food, the service was great and my waiter tried his best to ensure I had a good experience. I'm not sure how many foreigners end up here, but they did a very good job, especially in explaining things simply so I could understand. We had a nice chat too - but even if you don't speak much Japanese I think you would have a great time at this restaurant! Be sure to check it out if you're going to Dazaifu!


Angelica said...

Wow!! I wanted to "like" your first paragraph, haha. It all looks soo good! The bento box is brilliant, too!!

Kate said...

Yeah! I love those TV shows, lol. The bento was really cute. And tasty, too!

Anonymous said...

The bento container is a drawer? lol.

Kate said...

Yeah! You should see some old-style bentos that people took on picnics. There are lots of compartments for different small foods.