It was supposed to be a snack, something to keep hunger at bay until I “got back to civilization,” but one bite of Sugi no Yu Road Station’s niku udon (udon noodle soup with sliced meat) and it was clear this was more than just a snack.
Japanese Road Stations and Sugi no Yu
The many Michi no Eki, or road stations, scattered throughout the Japanese countryside are convenient rest stops to have a break on a long drive or road trip. All michi no eki have restrooms and vending machines but the larger ones have convenience stores selling local products and omiyage, as well as restaurants.
The restaurants here serve a very straightforward need – to refresh and replenish tired drivers and passengers before they continue their journey. You won't always find gourmet cuisine or can't expect a Michelin star experience, but here I was still pleasantly surprised by the quality on offer at Sugi no Yu Michi no Eki, in Nara’s Kawakami-mura.
Like the neighboring Sugi no Yu Hotel, the Sugi no Yu Road Station is owned by the village of Kawakami-mura and the Village Office smartly instructed the hotel’s chef to prepare broth for the road station's noodle window as well as for hotel guests.
The meat in my udon had been well enough prepared and soaked up enough of the broth that I thought it was some kind of exotic game meat. The cashier at the counter informed me that it was “just beef,” but he and the other staff smiled at my appreciative reaction.
The udon noodles and sliced scallions were good too but the flavor of the udon broth was simply excellent. At ￥570 a bowl it’s one of the best food deals anywhere in Japan (finding a better deal is something to look forward to indeed). Another bowl was required before I could allow myself to leave.
Besides the drool-inducingly delicious udon, the road station store sells locally made senbei crackers, dried vegetables and pickled vegetables grown on local farms or wild harvested from the surrounding mountains. Bird houses and other carved wood goods made by local artisans are also available. Those with time to spare can also enjoy a soak in the hot springs at the neighboring hotel. I’m looking forward to the next time I pass through Kawakami-mura. I will be consuming more bowls of udon when I do.
Kawakami-mura (and Sugi no Yu) is slightly off the beaten track in the mountains of southern Nara. Buses to Kawakami-mura and beyond are available from Yamato Kamiichi Station on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line, but they are infrequent. Kawakami-mura and the Sugi no Yu Roadside Station are best visited by car.