When Sam and I travelled to Takayama, we made it our mission to try as many dishes as possible ranging from street food to haute cuisine.
We knew we wanted to try Takayama noodles and Hida beef, which are two local specialities, but aside from that, we also ended up discovering traditional tea houses serving a myriad of teas and desserts, enjoying multi-course kaiseki meals at our ryokan, and trying sansai cuisine which strictly utilizes foraged mountain vegetables.
I hope you’ve brought your appetite because this Takayama food guide is going to make you hungry!
Foods to try in Takayama, Japan
The fun thing about eating ramen in Japan is that every city has its own take on the dish, and of course, one of the foods to try in Takayama is its ramen!
Takayama noodles were high on our list, and it wasn’t long before we found a noodle shop that lured us in with its replica ramen bowls.
Seriously, you’ve got to love Japan’s fake food displays – they just make everything look so enticing!
We grabbed a table at Kajibashi, a cosy ramen restaurant with dark wood panels and a dimly lit interior.
I couldn’t help feeling like I was at a pub, except with bowls of ramen on the menu.
Sam and I decided to order two different bowls of ramen to do a little comparing.
I got the classic Takayama ramen which came in a dark miso broth with noodles, bamboo shoots, scallions, seaweed and a slice of pork.
Meanwhile, Sam got the Hida beef noodles featuring exactly the same ingredients, except the pork was swapped for four slices of Hida beef and a price tag to match.
We found the Takayama noodles to be thinner and curlier than previous ramen experiences.
The broth was enriched with soy sauce and miso, so it was quite a bit saltier than I’m used to, but still very tasty.
Also, note that we got the regular bowls but you can go even bigger if you’re feeling hungry!
Another popular food to try in Takayama is Hida beef.
Hida beef is the name given to beef from black-haired Japanese cattle that have been raised in the Gifu Prefecture.
What sets this beef apart is the marbling (a mesh-like fat that runs through the meat), which makes it quite tender and gives it a distinct juiciness.
We tried Hida beef a few different ways during our visit to Takayama.
First, we tried Hida beef sushi, also known as Hida beef nigiri, where it is served on top of rice.
The meat was lightly torched and that melted a bit of the fatty marbling. It was served slightly pink (medium-rare) and just melted in our mouths.
The Hida beef nigiri is one of those must-try foods in Takayama and the best part is that you can get it in restaurants or as street food.
Because the ryokan where we spent the night specialized in Hida beef, we also got to try it at dinner time 3 different ways.
We had Hida beef steamed buns, Hida beef shabu shabu, and lastly, Hida beef steak. Each dish was so unique and showcased the versatility of the beef.
Most restaurants in Takayama feature Hida beef in some shape or form, so keep your eyes open if you want to try this local speciality.
Street food and snacks
Sam and I really enjoy visiting markets and trying the local street food wherever we travel, so in Takayama we did exactly that.
We visited the Miyagawa Morning Market, which is set on the east side of Miyagawa River and also spreads out to some of the side streets.
Here’s a list of some of the street food we tried along with prices:
- Chestnut Ice Cream: a wafer cookie shaped like a chestnut, but filled with vanilla ice cream. It would’ve been cool if it was actual chestnut ice cream – ¥250
- Hida Beef Bun: a plump steamed bun filled with sweet Hida beef and bamboo shoots – ¥430
- Hida Beef Croquette: a fried mash potato croquette with minced Hida beef – ¥190
- Hida Beef Skewer: grilled Hida beef on a skewer with a bit of ground pepper – ¥450
- Hida Beef Takoyaki: ball-shaped snack filled with pieces of beef instead of the classic octopus – ¥350
- Rice Crackers: crunchy crackers wrapped in dry seaweed with all sorts of seasonings like wasabi and spice – ¥120-150
- Soy Sauce Ice Cream: soft-serve vanilla ice cream with soy sauce, which was salty yet refreshing – ¥380
- Hida Beef Nigiri: lightly broiled Hida beef on top of rice, so think of it as beef sushi – ¥700
Tea and traditional Japanese sweets
So far we’ve talked about savoury foods to try in Takayama, but it’s time to move on to the desserts!
As you may have noticed in our videos, we had a lot of rain during our trip to Takayama, and since we couldn’t do much outdoors, one afternoon we decided to visit a traditional Japanese tea house.
We were the only guests at the time, so we grabbed the table on the tatami floors and got to perusing the menu.
For dessert, we got the warabimochi which is a jelly-like mochi served with toasted soybean powder. The mochi was matcha flavoured and it came with red beans and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Aside from that, we also ordered the dessert platter, which came with four treats. There was a fluffy pancake sandwich stuffed with red azuki beans, a purple sweet potato dessert, a sponge cake with a delicious jelly, and a ginger almond cake.
We paired all of this with a matcha tea and roasted tea. The matcha was a bit bitter for my taste, but the roasted tea was the perfect pairing for the desserts, in my opinion.
This was one of my favourite moments in Takayama and a really fun way to spend a rainy afternoon.
This particular tea house has changed hands since we last visited, so the tatami floors and low tables are gone, but they still serve tea and traditional Japanese desserts.
You can find it on GoogleMaps as 恵那川上屋 高山花筏店.
Mountain vegetables and Buddhist cuisine
When it comes to foods to try in Takayama, another unique experience is eating sansai ryori.
Sansai means “mountain vegetables” and the ingredients used in the preparation of these dishes are typically foraged not farmed.
These mountain vegetables are often used as ingredients in shojin ryori, or Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.
The restaurant we ate at was listed as “Local Cuisine Hisadaya” on GoogleMaps, but the sign read “Antique” once we reached the place.
We were a bit confused at first, but the photos matched the place even if the names didn’t!
The interior of this restaurant was beautiful and everything you’d expect from Japan.
We dined in a traditional setting with low tables and cushions, soft music playing in the background, and an exquisite array of little dishes.
We ended up ordering two kinds of sansai ryori platters which featured compartmentalized dishes with various kinds of pickled and seasoned mountain vegetables.
The dishes featured wild mushrooms, tofu, pickles, radishes, water chestnuts, bamboo, roots and shoots.
Each meal also came with a bowl of rice and a cup of green tea.
The only difference between the platters that Sam and I ordered was that mine was entirely vegetarian and his came with fish and meat.
When we first decided to eat at this restaurant I wondered whether “mountain vegetables” would be a substantial enough meal or whether we’d leave hungry…well, we left beyond satisfied!
The dishes may appear small, but they all added up.
Multi-course kaiseki meal
Ryokans typically specialize in kaiseki cuisine, a traditional multi-course dinner with special attention to presentation and hospitality.
These meals were once reserved for the royal noble classes, but today it’s part of Japan’s haute cuisine and staying overnight in a ryokan is a great way to get this experience.
We started the meal with a sweet quince beverage, that was crisp and refreshing, and tasted somewhere between a wine and a liqueur.
We then experienced course after course of tiny dishes with impeccable presentation and attention to the detail. Each dish was a work of art!
Some highlights included fatty roast pork with vegetables, bonito fish with ginger sauce and radish, and a pot of shabu shabu with Hida beef.
We’ll take you through each and every course of the meal in the video below.
Happy travels and itadakimasu!