Combat the Cold with Authentic Hōtō noodle soup at Hekkoro
Chances are you like a good bowl of Ramen, Yakisoba or even Tantanmen. But have you every heard of Hōtō (ほうとう) noodles?! This Yamanashi prefecture dish is not often found in other prefectures. and not quite as well known. However, it's the ULTIMATE winter dish! And luckily for us, Hekkoro in Fujisawa city has got our backs!
At home in the middle of nowhere
Fujisawa city is based in Kanagawa prefecture, and the restaurant is about a 10-minute walk to the station, or about 1hr 13m away from Shinjuku Station, according to our friend Google Maps. Although it may be harder to reach than Falafel Brothers or Ain Soph (read: central Tokyo), it's not exactly top-level 'inaka'. However, this "away from the buzz" feeling is exactly what Hekkoro aims to capture. The name Hekkorodani (へっころ谷) stands for "that remote spot, somewhere deep in the mountains" That feeling - of coming back to your remote hometown, where your mom has your favorite homemade food on the stove, where you feel safe and can either have an absolute blast with friends and family, or spend your days completely relaxed....
That is the feeling Hekkoro wants to provide at their restaurant.
And this absolutely conveys in every single way! From the nonchalant atmosphere, the at-home interior and communication (don't expect the "お客様は神様" - customer is god, in-your-face type of service), as well as their blog, events, staff recruitment and, most of all, their loyal, regular customer base.
These types of businesses make my heart sing...
Specializing in Hōtō noodle soup since 1978, the business is run by real Hōtō masters.
Hōtō is a noodle soup dish which' noodles looks similar to Udon noodles, but are prepared very differently, and a miso-based soup characterized by the large amount of healthy vegetables. The second generation and current owner of Hekkoro, introducing himself as "Ken-chan", admits he wasn't very impressed with his family's business when he was young. He reasoned that "Anyone can make simple noodles" and he spent his twenties eating fast food, smoking and partying. When he decided this wasn't the life he wanted for himself, he finally, after briefly joining a traditional, hierarchical Japanese office, found his passion with Hōtō! This was when he realized how extremely difficult it was to get that perfect balance between fluffy and chewy. As a result, he traveled all through Yamanashi prefecture to try the different Hōtō styles and techniques.
His passion for delicious, authentic and "clean" food can now be recognized everywhere: From the organic menu with vegetarian and vegan options, the home-made dishes using vegetables from their own farm, farming events together with customers (especially due to his "traumatic" Japanese office experience, they seem committed to a friendly, open and at-home atmosphere for both customers and staff), and even workshops to turn YOU into a Hōtō master!
Best Hōtō in Japan!
Their efforts definitely paid off! And even though I definitely enjoyed my visit, this raving title was NOT awarded by myself! Hekkoro has been ranked the Number One Hōtō restaurant in Japan, for seven years in a row! What better place to try your first (or 20th for that matter) bowl of Hōtō!
The Hōtō noodles are made from scratch and the soup is filled with seasonal, no-pesticides vegetables from their own, or neighboring farms. They ferment their own foods and soda's, and make their own soy-based ice cream. You can replace regular rice with fermented brown rice and they can veganize most of their dishes! And check this: their already-Vegan dishes are marker with a peace☮️ sign!
Their are famous for their unique Soymilk-base soup, which is used for two out of their 'BEST THREE' main dishes. Next to Hōtō, they have a large variety of interesting starters, side dishes, drinks, ice creams and party sets - including a Veggie party course.
We visited during lunch. There are limited parking spots and as we were by car, we actually had to wait for a slot to open for about 15 minutes - and therefore arrived only 5 minutes before the last order for lunch. This probably saved my wallet that day, cause with options like Soy karaage, kaki fry ("oysters"), Miso Katsu, homemade Vegan cheese, Vegan- and veganizable, Hōtō, chahan fried rice, AND parfaits... things would definitely have gone out of hand!
At the time of our visit, there was a promotion: Become their friend on LINE and get a discount on one of their starters. We went for their 100% Chigasaki soy beans Okara burgers with Mitarashi (sweet soy sauce) and homemade, fermented Vegan butter. Mindblowing! Just look at them! I need these in my life on a regular base, please.
Followed by "Juicy Soy Meat Karaage". The texture was not as "meaty" as some of the soy meat available now, but the deep umami flavors were amazing! And that dressing and dip sauce are on point!
I have had Hōtō twice before. Both homemade, and one of them even by a Yamanashi local. It's an amazing, warming and filing dish with fluffy noodles and a deep flavored, veggie-rich soup. I was super excited to try Hōtō from a "real restaurant", let alone one ranked best of the country!
Hekkoro did not disappoint! Their signature Soymilk based soup is deeply flavored and creamy, but not in a artificial, junkfood way. You can distinguish all the natural flavors and ingredients, and decide to spice things up with their homemade "Rayu" chili oil and spices. The homemade pickles on the side are delicious, and all together, it was a warming, satisfying dish.
Although famous for their Soymilk soup, authentic miso-based Hōtō is not to be missed either. Without the creaminess of the soymilk, the quality and intensity of each vegetable stands out even more. Topped with grated daikon and pickled vegetables, there is no shortage of different flavors and textures. This one was with loads of mushrooms!
Despite already having made the "last order call", the staff accepted our last-minute order for a dessert. They had a variety of ice creams, but as we did not want to take any more time than we had to, we went with the highlighted Matcha one.
Soy based, Vegan and DELICIOUS. A very simple, but deep green tea flavor. A great way to round up the meal. Next time, I'd be sure to go with their signature parfait with homemade soy yogurt! We also had their homemade fermented apple juice soda, which was very mild, but delicious!
Address: 3 Chome-30-1 Kameino, Fujisawa, Japan, 252-0813
Access: 10-min walk from Mutsuai-Nichidaimae Station. Limited parking
Food: Authentic Yamanashi-style Hōtō noodle soup, pickled and fermented foods, homemade drinks and desserts. Mostly Vegan or Veganizable.
Price: ￥500-600 for starters and about ￥1200 for a bowl of Hōtō . A bit pricey, but everything is handmade, homemade, organic and with superior ingredients.
Service: Laid back. Some Japanese reviewers argued they are friendly with the regular crowd, but a bit (too) relaxed with other customers. We did not mind. They welcomed us despite it being minutes before the last order, and were polite until we left - as the very last customers to do so.
Location: Bit out of the way, but definitely an experience, especially if you never had Hōtō before. Be sure to make a reservation on weekends and evenings, as they tend to be busy!
Overall: I loved my experience at Hekkoro! A huge, exciting menu with "Slow food", creative, homemade and fermented options, which show creativity, knowledge and passion, and of course, their NR.1 ranking as Hōtō masters. Especially the Okra burgers and Soy milk Hōtō were very memorable and I'm looking forward to another visit soon! ❤