Great Eats, Traveling

Japan Travel Blog April 2015: Houtou Foodou Kawaguchiko ほうとう不動

If you ever find yourself in the Yamanashi area on your way to visit Mt. Fuji or its Five Lakes, then I highly recommend a stop at this restaurant. Houtou Foodou (ほうとう不動) is a restaurant famous for serving up houtou (ほうとう), a specialty noodle dish that can be found only in the Fuji Five Lakes area.

Houtou Foodou has several branches and you only have to spot this sign with a roof-like symbol on top of a circle to know that you’re in the right place:

The branch we visited is its main branch in the north, if I’m not mistaken, and it’s located in a rather quiet neighbourhood. I imagine the branch across the train station would be the busiest. This branch was fairly empty when we arrived, which was a surprise. But since we were a party of 30-something people we filled up the place with enough excited chatter.

The restaurant is a homey and completely cozy wooden affair with high ceilings, giving it a very spacious feel. There’s an option to dine tatami style, or Western-style with normal chairs and tables. The space reserved for us is this charming little corner in the restaurant illuminated by sunlight through big glass windows.

When we arrived, the tables were already set with some appetizers on the ready. I was surprised to find a basket of gigantic ladles and had to wonder, if we’re eating soup, do we really need that much utensils? 

Soon enough, they brought out the large iron pots, and suddenly it all made sense.

These iron pots are bigger than a grown person’s face. I kid you not. It’s probably the biggest pot of noodles that has ever been served before me in my life, and I think the best way to enjoy this and not feel like your tummy is about to explode once you’ve licked the bowl clean is to actually split one order between two people.

This nabemono (hot pot) dish screams ‘perfect for chilly weather’ because it’s a hot noodle soup dish that can also serve as a face-warmer for those cold winter days. It’s like a meal and facial spa rolled into one. 😀

These houtou noodles look quite different from any other Japanese noodles because it’s a regional type that can be found only in Yamanashi prefecture. It’s essentially a type of udon that’s flat and wide, stretched out using bare hands then folded over and cut with a kitchen knife. It also has a higher amount of gluten which makes it chewier in texture. 

The Houtou Noodle Soup (1050 yen) is made from stewing noodles and seasonal vegetables in miso soup, but the special ingredient added in here makes this soup really darn tasty: pumpkin. The pumpkin is boiled in the miso soup until it melts into pieces, creating a wonderfully hearty broth. It’s not the same cream-like texture of Western pumpkin soup, but the pumpkin does act as a thickener for the miso and gives it more body and umami.

Not all the pieces of pumpkin got melted though so I got to eat chunks of this sweet bright orange vegetable. I must say it’s some of the best pumpkin I’ve had, and coupled with the cabbage and carrots and onions– all those flavours coming together!– it became one of my favourite dishes I ate on this trip!

At the side we were served with this beautiful red raw marbled meat, which at the time I did not know was raw horse. I was surprised when I found out about it because I’m more used to the idea of horses being ridden rather than eaten haha! 

You know when people say that something gets “cooked in the freezer” because they have been frozen in a certain way? That’s exactly what’s been done to these thin slices of Basashi (1050 yen). You just dip them into some soy sauce in their raw state, and when you eat them they practically melt in your mouth! Really good!

Another side dish (as if you’d need any more with that giant bowl of houtou noodles!) is the Special Kokutou Taki Inari (420 yen). It’s vinegared rice cooked in brown sugar, then wrapped in a tofu skin bag. It’s juicy and a bit sweet but with a tang thanks to the vinegared rice. When you take a bite, all the flavour oozes out. Remembering it while writing this makes me hungry. Truly.

By the way, those bottles of Asahi are actually Oolong Tea. Not beer. It’s kind of cute that they’re packaged this way.

With so much food in front of me it didn’t take long until I was stuffed. I wasn’t able to finish all my noodles and felt bad about leaving half of it uneaten. Most restaurants in Japan are sticklers about having the food they serve consumed inside the restaurant and nowhere else, to maximize freshness of course. I myself hate leaving my plate unfinished, but I simply could not eat another bite! In fact I had to stand and walk around, heading over to a small area in the restaurant where they display local goodies for sale. Stuff like Kit-Kat’s in different flavours (if you’re collecting KitKat’s, watch out for the Wasabi flavour here!) and other Japanese delicacies unique to this area fill the racks.

My Dad and I took home some of their noodle meal kits because we wanted the rest of the family to get a taste of these Houtou Noodles. Admittedly, nothing beats the taste of the freshly-cooked version, but I was really impressed by the fact that they managed to keep the pumpkin fresh, which is of course crucial for the broth of the Houtou Noodles. And yes the noodles were thick and chewy.

If you ever get a chance to eat here, do tell me what you think! 🙂

Houtou Foodou ほうとう不動 (North Kawaguchiko branch)

707 Kawaguchi, Minamitsuru-gun,
Fujikawaguchiko-machi 401-0304,
Yamanashi Prefecture
Website

Here’s a map of all the branches Houtou Foodou has as of this moment. You can pick one that is most convenient for you though I imagine the one in front of the train station would be most packed:

Full disclosure: This meal was absolutely not sponsored in any way and all opinions stated above are my own.

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