April 12, 2021
Tonoya-Yo, chef Yotaro Sasaki’s atmospheric inn and restaurant in the rural heartland of Iwate Prefecture, is unlike any other in Japan. Housed in a wooden rice storehouse beautifully refurbished and fitted out in a seamless blend of traditional and contemporary style, it offers a full immersion in the food culture of this little visited corner of Japan.
Sasaki was born into a family of innkeepers who have provided accommodation and sustenance for visitors to Tono for four generations. From his father he learned the hearty dishes that have sustained the local population through the centuries. But when it came to setting up his own restaurant, he has honed a style entirely his own.
Grounded in the precepts of Kyoto’s refined multicourse cuisine, Sasaki’s cooking yet remains deeply based in the food traditions of his hometown. It also borrows freely from outside influences. He prepares nama-fu, a traditional wheat gluten cake with the texture of polenta, draping it with slivers of prosciutto that he cures himself. And he grates homemade cheese and hoya (sea squirt) preserved like bottarga (salt roe) on top of the local type of wheat noodle, hitsumi, as if it were lasagna.
But the heart of his cuisine is the rice he grows each year in his own 100% organic paddies and serves as the culmination of each meal. He has also created a cottage industry of brewing milky-white doburoku, the traditional rustic antecedent of modern-day sake.
Working in his kitchen with a single assistant, Sasaki only accepts one group of up to eight guests at each meal, and just six for overnight stays, ensuring that any visit to Tonoya-Yo is an exclusive and highly prized experience.
2-17 Zaimoku-cho, Tono, Iwate Pref. 028-0521, Japan