One of the most interesting things I ate last month was miso pizza. It was not the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life – let us by all means resist hyperbole in the age of clickbait – but it was a special meal, made all the more unforgettable by the company and golden weather. The Nakasendo Way, which I finally finished walking about 160km of for work, is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful walk, and it was on this hike that I was lucky enough to eat miso pizza.
The morning began with a hike, as so many of my food memories here seem to these days, taking us across a mountain pass or two. Late morning brought us to a little house-cafe run by a retired couple living in the middle of this nowhere place, whose backyard opens out into a glorious view of snow-capped Mt. Ontake. Having left the city years ago for the rural life, they spend their days enjoying retirement with their adorable dachshund, making pizza and bread for when we visit with our tours.
The husband part of this equation is endearingly eccentric – pizza maestro yes, but also fancying himself a stationmaster and all-round entertainer. He insists on performing tsugaru jamisen every time we visit, and his playing frankly cannot hold a candle to his wife’s superb harmonica skills, but people are charmed regardless. Then the display of his collection of model railway trains – for some reason, all European. It is all extremely heartwarming.
European-style crusty loaves are harder to come by in Japan, but they bake superb rolls – a mix of rye and wheat flours, with walnut pieces and dried fruit studded throughout – that mop up puddles of olive oil wonderfully. Bread is followed by two kinds of pizza for lunch. Everyone knows a margarita and theirs is delicious, but the miso pizza – ah, the miso pizza! They make their own miso: the koji starter is from a factory downtown, and the miso not made with the customary soybeans and salt, but with rice and sugar. Sometimes she throws in shoyu-marinated banana peppers when they’re in season for that extra kick. The result is mild and tasty and umami-ful. This miso is then smeared on their homemade dough topped with mushrooms and cheese, and fired up in the oven. A few fresh sansho berries finish the whole affair.
In between slices of pizza and refilling glasses of water, I asked A-san if they had ever allowed any write-ups on this place and she said, “we’ve refused all interview requests. I mean, we’re old and retired. This is just a hobby for us, and we don’t want lots of people coming here. We’d have to turn them away.” I knew exactly what she meant: in a day and age where everyone seems to be chasing that hole-in-the-wall experience, that Exclusive Access to Secret Unknown Locals-Only Location to blog about, they’d be prime targets.
I think about this more and more these days, and my sometimes-reticence on social media now about food is linked to this – how much should I divulge, how much can I share? So it is that I cannot and will not write about their location publicly. (Honestly, if you’re looking for the best pizza, you’re better off in Tokyo or Italy anyway.) Only this: I feel very lucky to have had eaten there.