Many tourists tend to take daytrips to Nara given its accessibility from Osaka and Kyoto as well as its relatively compact size compared to the aforementioned cities. These tourists often spend the day frolicking with the sacred dear in Nara Park, and visiting the various shrines and temples, rarely ever spending the night Nara.
While Nara is a great spot to visit to see historical buildings and other structures, it is actually also full of a variety of other wonderful restaurants and sights that cannot all be visited in one short day. Keep reading to get the inside info on where to go in the heart of Nara city, as well as the buzz about the ramen battlegrounds making the rounds across Japan.
Be gobsmacked by the mochi making frenzy at Nakatanidou
There are a vast number of great places to visit from the heart of Nara city that are accessible from the JR Nara station or the Kintetsu Nara station.
One of the most popular attractions in the area can be found at Nakatanidou, located at the entrance of the shopping district. It is well known as a traditional Japanese sweets store and for its high-speed mochi (rice cake) pounding demonstration.
Making mochi is an ancient Japanese custom that is carried out all across Japan to ring in the new year. It involves pounding cooked sticky rice in a wooden mortar using a giant hammer. The pounded mass is constantly turned and folded onto itself until it forms a soft, smooth, stretchy rice cake. Nakatanidou is known for demonstrating this act of pounding mochi at an extremely high speed, significantly faster than the average mochi-making artisans. Pounding the mass while the sticky rice is hot ensures that the finished product is soft and very stretchy, which is why the mochi masters go to lengths to create their mochi at such a high speed.
There are few places where freshly made mochi can be eaten on the spot outside of New Years in Japan, so this store is great for gourmands looking for a delicious treat, or those itching to see the impressive demonstration in the heart of Nara (Nakatanidou URL: http://www.nakatanidou.jp/).
Take a break from your adventure at Rokumei Coffee
The city area of Nara is highly convenient for visiting temples, shrines, and other spots, but sometimes it’s nice to give the feet a rest by stopping by a nice café.
One such café that deserves a visit is ROKUMEI COFFEE CO (Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rokumeicoffee.global), known for its own-roasted coffee beans. Founded in 1974, it is a long-standing establishment with its own special spin on coffee that it has maintained throughout the years whilst also offering a stylish interior to stay up to date with the times. This coffee shop is much loved by locals as well as international tourists, including those from Australia where the coffee culture is alive and kicking.
According to one of the café staff, the biggest differences between ROKUMEI’s coffee and the average drop, are its “fragrance and flavour”. “Coffee beans are fruits. They should be fragrant like flowers and have sweet and acidity like fruits. We aim to bring out these qualities as well as the true flavours of the coffee beans,” the same staff member commented.
While dark roasting coffee increases its bitterness, the café goes to efforts to ensure that the beans do not lose their fruity notes and maintain their unique character profile during the roasting process so as to serve delicious coffee to customers. The café itself is spacious with many tourists opting to drop by more than once a day. This place is a must visit for those looking for a truly delicious cup of coffee during a stay in Nara.
“Mitsuba” – a superstar restaurant in the new ramen battlegrounds of Tomio
Just five stations away from Kintetsu Nara station by local train is Tomio, a town that has garnered much attention across Japan of late as a feeding grounds for ramen.
Ramen is currently experiencing a renaissance around the world in not only large markets such as the United States and Europe, but also in humble Sydney, Australia as well. A trip over to the ramen battlegrounds in Nara should be on the list of those seeking to taste the truly popular ramen bowls found in Japan.
The ramen restaurants found in the surrounds of Nara are currently the focus of many across Japan, with the town of Tomio at the heart of the popularity boom. Despite this, visitors hopping off the train at Tomio station will not be flooded by the sight of ramen restaurants as far as the eye can see. This is why a certain amount of research is required to taste all of extremely delicious, high quality ramen the town has to offer.
There is one particular popular restaurant that I would personally like to introduce to readers in this article. Located in Tomio Honmachi, a six-minute walk away from Tomio station, is Ramen-ya Mitsuba (URL: http://www.ramenya-mitsuba.com/). It has been featured on the Top 100 Ramen Restaurants of Western Japan published by Japanese foodie site, Tabelog, for multiple years running. In fact, to not know this restaurant is to not be a genuine ramen lover.
The foamy broth of the Pork CHIKI Soy Sauce Ramen is the restaurant’s base dish. This ramen is known for its pork bone and chicken-based broth, which is surprisingly clean on the palate, and features an innovatively foamy consistency.
Since long queues often form outside of the restaurant, Mitsuba has its own procedure to ensure the lines move efficiently by asking customers form to two lines. One line is specifically for buying meal tickets and the other line is for those with tickets waiting to be seated inside. It is advised that all customers abide by these simple rules to ensure a hassle-free experience on the way to delicious ramen.
While there are many popular ramen restaurants in the area, Mitsuba is definitely worth dropping by first to taste their unique and tasty creations.
【Written by Kazuya Baba – Australia based writer】