With fine dining at Michelin-starred restaurants in its major cities, Japan offers foodies ample opportunities to eat like a king. But what if, instead, you want to eat like a samurai warlord?
Then a visit to the town of Kameoka, in Kyoto Prefecture, is in order.
Sitting to the side of a quiet footpath that runs along low wall with a castle-like stone base is the restaurant Hekitei. Staring up at its majestic gate, you might think it looks like a samurai’s house, but you’d be wrong; it doesn’t look like a samurai house, because it is a samurai house.
▼ Note the spears hanging lengthwise at the top of the wall on the right.
Hekitei used to be the home of the head of the Heki samurai family, and was originally built over 300 years ago. It’s since been converted into a restaurant, though, and we decided to stop by when we heard that the house specialty is something called Busho Meshi, or the “Samurai Warlord Meal,” which includes a recreation of a dish actually eaten by one of Japan’s most famous samurai.
The town of Kameoka used to be the site of an official residence of Akechi Mitsuhide. Mitsuhide was a general serving under (and who later betrayed) Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s three great unifiers who brought the Sengoku period, Japan’s centuries-long civil war, to an end. Hekitei’s chefs researched historical documents related to Mitsuhide’s life, and from them were able to discover one of his favorite meals, which his wife Hiroko would often prepare and serve to the samurai and his vassals, and how to cook it. That dish is…
…miso soup, but it’s totally unlike the sort of miso soup you’ll find in modern Japanese restaurants. For starters, it’s got chunks of wild boar in it, something that’s unheard of in contemporary miso soup.
Generally, the major flavor for miso soup is a salty one, but with the boar’s juices mixing into the broth, the Samurai Warlord miso soup has a rich taste.
It’s also filled with starchy root vegetables, making it much hardier and more fortifying than thin mixture of broth, seaweed, and maybe a little tofu that’s the most common form miso soup takes. Honestly, it’s more like “miso stew” than “miso soup,” and it’s a fitting choice for a samurai, since the phrase “You can’t fight on a empty stomach” exists in Japanese too (Hara ga hette ha ikusa ga dekinu.)
There’s more to the 4,800-yen Samurai Warlord Meal than just miso stew, though the rest of it doesn’t have an established historical connection to Mitsuhide. The exact sides vary seasonally, but on our visit we also got flat-grilled boar, okowa sticky mochi rice, and several other mouthwatering sides.
The seasonal vegetables were especially beautiful, sometimes looking like genuine works of decorative art.
And for dessert, there was matcha ice cream, a reminder that as cool as samurai may have been, living in the modern era can be pretty great too.
Everything was delicious, but the miso stew was definitely the standout of the bunch, especially as we sipped the samurai soup while sitting in a genuine samurai home, and we should add that we were also happy that our meal ended with a simple paying of the check, with far less drama than the conclusion of Mitsuhide’s life.
Hekitei / へき亭
Kyoto-fu, Kameoka-shi, Chitosecho Bishamon Mukobata 40
Open noon-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
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