Cast aside any doubts you may have over Fukushima’s ability to deliver on fresh food. If the stigma of 2011 still lingers, it may help to know that along with a Gold Medal haul as a top sake producer, Fukushima is also now one of Japan’s larger agricultural prefectures and well-known for its fresh fruit, like peaches, grapes and apples.
The Food Camp program provides more proof in the pudding that Fukushima excels in all things gourmet. This series of food experiences brings farm and table as close as they can get, with fine dining in the fields and a chance to meet local producers and artisans from around the prefecture.
Produced by local Koriyama-based Magonote Travel since 2016, the initiative is their own effort to help revitalize the prefecture and make use of what they already do so well — traditionally a taxi company, they take care of ferrying visitors around and organising all connections.
Food Camp tours are hosted throughout the year and designed to whisk visitors from far away into Fukushima’s heartland, helping them tour the expansive countryside while meeting local farmers, who are only too happy to open their doors to outside interest.
Joining October 2021’s edition of Food Camp hosted at Fruit Farm Kato (north-west Fukushima City), I was thrilled to learn more about the formula and, thanks to Magonote’s invitation, headed for Fukushima and owner Shuichi Kato’s waiting apple orchards.
Before guests had a chance to marvel at the picture postcard scene of al fresco dining under the apple trees, we were first taken on a walking tour of the orchard by Kato-san. He helped explain about the orchard’s fruits and varieties—such as Fuji and Kougyoku—and invited us to pick fresh apples off the trees, as well as explain the region’s advantage over Aomori — Japan’s top producing region. The warmer climate here favors a later harvest, allowing them to ripen later and enjoy more time under the sun — as a basin surrounded by mountains, this area of Fukushima City also enjoys sunshowers, and the occasional rainbow along with them!
With the orchard tour complete and appetites primed, the group returned to a custom produced menu of delectable dishes themed around Kato’s Ginjo apples and local Oku-Aizu beef.
Our menu was a one-off collaboration produced by chef Ryota Hayashi, who runs Wagyu Shunsai A-un in Koriyama City. Famous for his signature dishes based the local Oku-Aizu brand of beef, Hayashi-san blends flavours of Ginjo apple across a multi-course kaiseki-style feast that truly stands testament to the power of Fukushima’s own-brand produce, let alone Hayashi’s sheer culinary creativity.
Following a tasting paddle of apple ciders, guests dined on an array of stellar dishes, including a beautifully layered millefeuille of roasted wagyu sirloin and apple, Japanese-style consomme soup with a beef/tofu/apple/veggie ball, grilled beef with salted koji and sautéed apple, a wagyu/apple burger before ending with a slow cooker baked apple.
The welcome provided by the locals was infectious and it felt truly fabulous to experience Fukushima’s fruits in such an authentic and raw setting under the elements.
On most trips to Japan—caught between the neon buzz of Tokyo and the tourist traffic in Kyoto—it can be unthinkable to imagine dining outside under the sky in a wide open space in the exclusive audience of local artisans and producers. This is what makes Food Camp so great. In a world slowly emerging from the pandemic, I cannot imagine anything better for the ideal post-Covid detox trip and Magonote Travel has excelled at bringing its Food Camp brand so far.
What was more to love — under the safety of the canopy, the occasional sunshower only served to make the experience more genuine and emotional. What’s more: we were blessed with a stunning rainbow just fields away from the dining table. Happy days!
Fukushima can be accessed in just 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. With Magonote Travel taking care of all transfers and connections, Food Camp makes for an easy day trip which brings the experience itself to the forefront. Stay tuned to the official website for more about upcoming restaurant tours in Fukushima and how to book them.