Countless pieces on food in Japan begin with some variation on the theme of the local, something to effect of Place X having a unique cuisine defined by the landscape and the seascape, or Place Y having developed its particular specialties because of a particular natural quirk. It’s cliché because it’s true. In towns like Takehara, the local specialties are the result of the particular history and landscape. For Takehara, it was rich farmland, the treasures of the Inland Sea, and the wealth generated by trade, especially in salt. This is a country of gourmands and Takehara is no exception, with a balance between the traditional and the modern.
Here are five options that won’t steer you wrong.
Before climbing up to Saihoji, the temple perched on a hilltop overlooking the town, fuel up on okonomiyaki at Horikawa, located in a cute whitewashed building across from the stairs up the cliff. The building itself fits in with the surrounding townscape, dating back just about a century, and once home to a soy sauce factory and warehouse. Hiroshima is known for its local version of okonomiyaki, a dashi-infused pancake stuffed with cabbage, pork and noodles. Takeharayaki is the local version, made with sake lees from a nearby brewery, a nod to the town’s history as a center of sake brewing.
A standout in the local dining scene, Uango is also a bit of a hidden treasure—literally: it’s hard to find. A hidden path begins about twenty minutes’ walk from Takehara Station, leading to a nondescript house on a hill near the Kamogawa River. In the proprietor’s former life, he was a professional photographer in Tokyo, and has brought his attention-to-detail to soba and tempura. There is careful attention paid to sourcing local produce and turning out from a miniscule kitchen the best possible plates. The dining room is a virtual museum, with most of the wall space devoted to the owner’s work and artifacts from his own life. For the best experience possible, put in a call and make reservations (a special menu can be arranged, as well), but feel free to pop in, too.
Another cliché that happens to be true: the Italian food in Japan is often as fine as the cuisine found in its motherland. It’s no surprise, then, that Trattoria M, a quietly glamorous storefront in the relative backwater of Takehara, punches above its weight. The kitchen at Trattoria M takes things beyond merely turning out facsimiles of Italian plates, and brings in some local flavor: sake lees add a pungent note to the risotto, seasonal produce is used to its fullest effect (lemons grown on nearby Osakikamijima Island, for example), and each course can be paired with selections from the restaurant’s carefully-chosen sake list that includes bottles brewed within a quarter mile.
Kushi no Ie
It’s hard to pin down the origins of kushikatsu, the presentation of meat and vegetables on wooden skewers, but it’s easy to imagine the rough-and-tumble sailors and pilgrims of Edo Era Takehara making a boozy meal of a similar dish. This spot, not far from Trattoria M, is great way to start a tour of the drinking spots and small taverns in the neighborhood. Choose the omakase and let the cooks behind the counter serve the best of the day’s menu, and simply tap out when you’ve eaten your fill. The seafood is particularly worthy, especially when sprinkled with local sea salt made with traditional methods.
Set in a traditional building in the historical preservation area that has earned Takehara the moniker of "Little Kyoto," Ippuku is worth a visit while strolling the district built by the salt barons. Kawara soba, named for the clay tile that the dish is served on, probably originated in another port on the Inland Sea, and was imported to Takehara more than a century ago. The tiles Ippuku uses are said to be over a century old. The heated tile is topped with soba, arranged to mimic a mythological ogre, complete with pointed nose made from radish grated with red pepper. The comfortable atmosphere, including the handsome garden out back, invites visitors to linger.