A culinary experience for food lovers on the kitchen bus.
Enjoying beautiful and delicious Japan in Ako
Ako is a special town. I felt that from the moment I stepped out of the train at the station, in this lovely small harbor town in Hyōgo Prefecture.
Located in the southwest of Japan, Ako is a small town delimited by mountains and the sea.
Wooden houses, stone pavements, trees overgrown with moss, and a white castle.
Luckily, I had a privilege of spending some days in this beautiful town.
I quickly fell in love with Ako and its sympathetic residents.
From oysters to sake or nihonshu – as the Japanese call the alcoholic beverage –, bread, and salt, this city is full of natural resources.
You can feel the pride in these high-quality goods when you talk to the local people. The knowledge and expertise are very high when it comes to these products in Ako.
Generations of craftsmen and women, farmers and fishers keep on working passionately in this town where the clocks run differently and slower compared to big cities. It feels almost like people don’t know about rushing or being stressed. The focus here lies more on patience and dedication.
Keeping the old traditions and the authentic way to prepare their products alive, artisans and gourmets take the food seriously, finessing their recipes since the early days.
You can find the finest Neapolitan pizza while having a romantic ocean view, prize-winning Sushi, local izakayas or a multi-course “Kappo” dinner left entirely up to the chef.
Simply, Ako is a place where you can spend a lovely and cozy evening in any season of the year.
Here they understand the phrase of quality and they take the time to guarantee and prove it.
And you will love it if you are a food lover as I am.
Experiencing tradition, the production of the famous Ako salt
One of the most important specialties of the city is its Salt.
The salt of the Setonaikai sea. Ako's salt has been known for its quality since the Edo times and had a high reputation throughout the whole country of Japan.
Salt has been one of the most famous products of the area.
Circumstances have changed and the situation we find today is nothing like the time in the Edo period. Rivalry and cheap imported salt from overseas are challenges, but Ako is still producing the tasty salt that enriched the town in the past, and therefore it is even more special.
And the very traditional salt-making experience in the Ako Marine Science Museum deserves a visit. Being able to see the interesting process of producing salt was both stunning and educational. Even a redesigned kettle can still be fired up to get you the authentic feeling.
Bringing people together through food and going to places: The Kitchen Bus Experience
What makes the Kitchen Bus Experience so special is its mixture of tradition, good food, made out of healthy ingredients and also a big portion of fun. Exactly the reason why I came to visit Ako.
On the Bus I met Nao and Tamara, two chefs from two different countries with types of cuisine that couldn’t be more different. I am talking about Japan and France.
Nao and Tamara were chosen to be a part of the Kitchen Bus experience.
They came up with a very special and delicate menu, including Japanese, French and other European dishes. Only by looking at the dishes we could expect my mouth began watering. Everyone else felt the same. We all were very excited and happy which led to a very positive and relaxing atmosphere.
The two chefs explained us why they chose specific ingredients from the area for certain dishes we would eat later in that evening’s special event. I could feel that it takes a lot of finesse to create the dishes and the two told us about some culinary secrets on how to master these dishes.
By the bus, our group traveled around, from fields that were cultivated by local farmers to the harbor where we met a lot of friendly Ako residents.
On every station, we picked up ingredients for the “ready to be” delicious menu.
Everything was fresh and local. We picked up vegetables such as cabbage on the fields and at the harbor, we went by a boat to see how oysters find their way on our table. We visited a place where the people farm the oysters and therefore could get a really good insight into how the locals take care of a craft generation.
We took some oysters and other maritime delicacies like local fish.
We visited the Okuto Shuzo Sake Brewery, running its business since 1600 where we learned about the secret of manufacturing Sake and Koji. Really interesting to see how they produce the drink we all love to drink in the evening in an izakaya. We ate bread in the Kagakuji Temple, where a baker who learned the craft of baking in France sells his bread only once a month.
We were so lucky because the bread was amazing. They seem to have a shop too, but in the surrounding of the temple made the taste even better. Our trip on the bus continued and we visited a rice farmer who provided a lot of fresh vegetables for our dinner.
Along our trip, we met a lot of friendly and warm-hearted people who we all asked to join us that evening for the Bus Kitchen experience. They were more than happy to do so.
After some hours of shopping ingredients and exploring the town, we went to a beautiful camping space on a hill right above the Ako sea. What a stunning view! Cooking food with ingredients from Ako such as famous salt, the chefs cooked meal in for us and the local people in the Kitchen Bus.
There we were with the perfect combo:
Amazing and local food, the best salt of the country, two great chefs and a kitchen bus!
This is how this incredible experience started!
While Nao and Tamara started to prepare the fresh food on the bus with their finesse and experience, all the people were gathering together in front of our vehicle.
All our new friends came, accompanied by their families and friends, from all ages. Everyone seemed very shy and reserved in the beginning but only after some toasts and a couple of harmonica songs everybody felt comfortable and the atmosphere was very laid-back. This made me smile.
While the sun was going down, everything was all about being together, working together as a team – everyone in the group, but also the group together with the locals – enjoying good food and having the best time. All accompanied by a view over the beautiful town of Ako.
The Kitchen Bus Experience gave me not only the possibility to taste delicious food but also made me to experience the culture and spirit that is alive in Ako perfectly. The tour on the bus brought us to so many amazing and interesting places and people. Hearing their stories, seeing how passionately they work and honor their crafts let me dive into Ako and the town's heritage. The experience also connected this heritage and the old tradition with the modern approach of cooking on a bus. An interactive kitchen bus that connects many different people. I had a lot of fun that day and learned a lot about the region and its crafts. Such as the production of the famous Ako salt, that was very interesting and amazing to see.
From the salt, the vegetable, oysters to the delicious bread in the temple, I will remember this trip for sure. But most importantly I will remember the people I met and the friends I made that day. Thank you, Ako for having me!
About the Author
Marta Espinosa from Spain has been living in Japan for 2 years.