Snacking with a View in Odawara's new "MINAKA"
The newly opened Minaka makes for an exciting little trip. Not only thanks to the traditional architecture and number of Vegan options, but even more so for the possibility to enjoy said options, with your feet in a free "ashi-yu" public foot bath on the 14th floor!
You may have heard of Odawara before - a small city in Kanagawa prefecture, where you likely transferred on your way to Hakone, or passed when riding the Shinkansen. Famous for Umeboshi (Japanese sour plums), Kamaboko (Fish cake) and the Odawara castle, the first two of which usually are not too popular with foreigners, Odawara is still not that well known. However, if you live in Kanagwa, especially with kids, you will find it makes for a charming little day trip!
Minaka shopping mall
Most visitors come to Odawara for a visit to the castle. As it is rather small, a lot of people would only drop by on their way to- or from Hakone, and leave again right after, without spending time anywhere else.
To boost the local economy, the city council has tried several times to open a fun shopping center to attract more visitors that stay longer, and while the underground shopping mall HaRuNe, opened in 2014, has some nice options for us Vegans (-Kaldi, a farmer's market shop, Bubble tea with soy milk options..), it was hardly -visible- enough to draw major attention.
They therefore came up with something new. A large, traditional style building, right in between the castle and the station! Who doesn't want to at least have a peek inside this intriguing structure?!
They went all out! Not only does the building conveniently help you find your way towards the station and offer cute shops with local foods and crafts, but it also connects to a brand new food court, restaurant, hotel, and view deck with free public foot bath!
Who doesn't want to spend a day in Odawara now?!
As a Vegan, chances are you've had your share of Inari sushi, both in Japan and abroad. If so, you will also know that inari can taste very different, depending on the sweetness, juiciness and fillings. "Sagamiya" is an inari sushi specialist that has been established in 1869!! In over 150 years, they have perfected their recipe and continue to promote the flavor of their authentic "Edo" inari. They secret lies with premium ingredients: from natural soy beans, fresh water to strong umami. The products come in beautiful wooden box, which makes it a great lunchbox to gift or share. The staff kindly confirmed that no katsuo, or other animal ingredients were used in the inari pictured (be sure to confirm if you are ordering other things from the menu).
The flavor was DELICIOUS and very balanced. I personally don't like the overly sweet inari you find at e.g. the konbini. Sagamiya's inari tastes much more fresh, natural and overall "premium".
Ever since their opening, the shop sold out without hours, and had long lines even before opening. They therefore opened at 10:00 with only 2 options/sets (e.g. inari sushi and Kanpyō sushi and only inari), until they sell out. They will then prepare the second batch, open a second time around 15:00 with one or two different options, until they sell out again.
*This was in the first months. The situation may be different now - their website states they are open until they sold out.
Wagashi at Fukura Suzume
Another traditional 'titan' is "Fukura Suzume", a wagashi shop that has specialized in Monaka (azuki sandwiched between mochi rice waffles) for over 70 years, making their own anko sweet bean paste, and famous in Odawara for their castle-shaped waffles, both of which' factors make for it to be a great souvenir. In their new Minaka store they cleverly build this roasting bar, where you can order freshly roasted "dango" mochi rice cakes. They can be topped with Soy sauce, anko, mitarashi (sweet soy sauce glaze), kinako (soy bean flour) and isobe (wrapped in nori).
We went for the anko (left), kinako (center), and isobe (right).
All three were exceptionally delicious and I would definitely have them again! I'd normally have a favorite, and normally it would be anko, but each flavor was so well-balanced and tasty, I would have them all again!
Be sure to also have a look in the rest of their shop. They sell a wide range of excitingly flavored monaka (e.g. yuzu, matcha, strawberry), although many aren't vegan, as well as fresh anko paste and monaka shells.
Intense Matcha Latte at Matcha Sora
Odawara station has a Starbucks, a Tully's and a Beck's Coffee. So even though you will not have trouble finding a (matcha) latte nearby, you do want to have it at least once at Matcha Sora!
They definitely are not hard to find - just follow the flow of people walking around with funny looking cups, green wagashi sweets, or delicious looking green ice cream! Matcha Sora bases its menu on organic matcha and hojicha. Although they have only been established in 2013, they are dedicated to offer authentic Japanese tea flavors in their sweets and drinks. They stand out with their eco cups - that don't use any plastic and has you drink from one of the sides (- sharing has never been more easy!).
Using organic tea, brown sugar and eco cups, I wish I could be even more excited about this place, but many options are not vegan, as despite using soymilk, they also include dairy. I have not been able to find an allergens list yet - but the staff confirmed the ice cream was a no-go.
I therefore had the matcha with soy milk, without added sugar. As expected, it was really intense! Best enjoyed with some sweet dango from neighbor "Fukura Suzume"!
There is much more to discover at Minaka. I have so far confirmed options in the following other places:
Bakery - "Bunbun plus" - just some standard banquets and nut bread. Worth to check.
Onigiri - counter on the ground floor - seemingly vegan salt/kombu/ume options (tbc)
Wagashi - shop on the ground floor - a bit hidden away in the corner (previously located in HaRuNe). Delicious plantbased traditional sweets - often in beautiful shapes and patterns.
Mitsumoto Coffee - This coffee shop does coffees and lunch menu. I haven't had a good look yet, but they do offer a "change to soy" option, so I suspect several drinks can be made vegan. * Mitsumoto Coffee: I visited this coffee shop on 3/19 and asked the staff if, when ordering with soy milk, the drinks would be free of any diary products. The staff member confirmed, even when I asked for specific drinks. The cup had a "soy milk" sticker and the menu has "soy milk" written on it, and you pay extra for the change.
It tasted funny, but with the recent "Almond Praline" from Tully's and "Almond whip" from Starbucks, I figured it would just be another realistic option. I ended up very sick and am in contact with their Customer Support to hopefully make sure it won't happen to anyone else.
Overall: Definitely go check out the beautiful building, plentiful interesting vegan options and, of course, the free foot bath-with-a-view on the 14th floor! ❤