When I visited Shirakawa-go over the long weekend in January, I found Hîragi, a cute restaurant along the snow-covered the vehicle-access road to the lookout point in Ogimachi, Shirakawa-go. I was intrigued, of course, because one of my favorite kanji is 柊 (hîragi), holly, because the radicals mean tree-winter. What sealed the deal was the menu: I wanted to introduce my friends to hôba miso yaki（朴葉味噌焼き), and they wanted to try Hida beef (飛騨牛).
When we walked in Hîragi, the staff was incredibly friendly, showing us to a table by a heater and confirming that the Japanese-only menu was okay with us. Their welcoming attitude made me really happy because I’ve not always had the best luck with eating out at major tourist sites. Sometimes the staff are condescending; sometimes people just assume I can’t read or speak any Japanese. (Asking is totally fair, but the attitude and assumption that I couldn’t possibly really grates on my nerves. Plus, how am I supposed to order if I don’t know the Japanese names of the foods?… I digress.) There was none of this attitude here, and I found myself liking the place more and more because I was treated warmly and with respect.
Luckily, if you don’t read Japanese well, the menu has pictures. Most menu items can be ordered as a set or a la carte. Sets include the hôba miso set (hida gyû hôba miso teishoku, 飛騨牛朴葉味噌定食), which came with pickles, pickled ginger, kinpira, rice, a small bowl of soba, fruit, and the hôba miso yaki, which included onions, mushrooms, Hida beef, and tofu.
To enjoy the hôba miso yaki, a staff member brings out a Sterno-like device, which is placed into a ceramic or metal grill and lit. The magnolia leaf rests on a piece of foil on top of the grate, and the heat cooks your food on top of this leaf.
When the miso starts to bubble and thicken, you stir it all together and enjoy. It’s not the prettiest meal, but it’s one of the tastiest. The Hida beef is marbled and melts in your mouth; the umami of the magnolia leaf mixed with the mushrooms, tofu, onions, and beef is divine. Also, a lot of the fun is just waiting on your food to cook while you enjoy your soba and okazu.
Believe me, if it had been proper to lick the miso off the leaf, I would have.
This set is 1300 yen, as is the Hida beef skewer set (hida gyû kushi yaki don, 飛騨牛串焼き丼) (also available a la carte).
One of the skewers was spicy, and the staff even asked if that were okay, which I thought was very conscientious. Apparently the juices and marinade in this kebab-donburi hybrid drip onto the rice and make it even more delicious.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the most vegetarian-friendly restaurant. However, for the pescetarian, there is the salt-roasted sardine (iwashi shiyaki teishoku, イワシ塩焼き定食) set for 1000 yen (or the sardine a la cart), as well as udon and soba (900 yen each), which might not contain meat but probably have non-vegan stock, if that’s a concern for you. The soba that came with our sets was excellent and locally made, so if you are a noodle aficionado, be sure to give the soba a try.
On our table was a notebook for guests to sign, so I made sure to write the staff a nice note about how we were visiting from Kanazawa and how happy I was to have amazing food in a cozy and warm restaurant. If you want a taste of Shirakawa-go’s famous cuisine, Hîragi will win you over with its simple but lovely cuisine and its hospitality.
お休み処 柊 (Oyasumi Dokoro Hîragi)
1823 Ogi-machi Shirakawa-gô Ôno-gun Gifu-ken 501-5627
Open 10:00-18:00. (L.O. 17:00)
No fixed holidays. Available for large-group reservations.
Website: Shirakawa-go 柊 page