Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Tamaruya and Other Vegan-Friendly Mizusawa Udon Restaurant

If you plan to visit Ikaho Onsen in Gunma Prefecture, venture out to the Mizusawa region for the infamous Mizusawa Udon (水沢うどん) because it is one of Japan’s three most famous udons (the other two are Inaniwa Udon (稲庭うどん) from Akita Prefecture and Sanuki Udon (讃岐うどん) from Kagawa Prefecture)! The chewy and slightly thick noodles are made with only flour, salt, and Mizusawa’s fine water. The udon was first made for worshippers of the Mizusawa-dera Temple, which was why the udon was named Mizusawa.

© photo-ac.com

Although you might think the noodles with a smooth texture originated from the locals selling the udon to Mizusawa Temple‘s worshippers, that wasn’t the case.

In the Sengoku period (1467 to 1567), the temple’s monks made udon noodles for the pilgrims at the temple so they wouldn’t starve while praying. By the end of the Sengoku period, a couple of udon makers already had a shop at the temple’s approach.

Apparently, only the 13 udon makers around Mizusawa Temple’s front gate were allowed to use the trade mark, Mizusawa Udon. Fortunately, 2 of the 13 udon specialists survived the test of time, so we can still taste the udon that the Japanese have loved for centuries, and Tamuraya is one of them.

A List of Restaurants Selling Mizusawa Udon

Tamaruya (田丸屋)

Tamaruya was established in 1582 and is one of the oldest udon makers in Mizusawa. While it looks like a typical traditional private house from the outside, it has a classy, traditional dining setting. The restaurant is so popular that a queue may have already formed by around 12 pm on weekends and public holidays. After all, the restaurant is huge. The chewy noodles are absolutely exquisite, and a short wait is worthwhile.

But don’t worry, the turnover is usually fast.

If there is a queue, get a number plate from the machine after inputting the number of people in your group and the preferred type of seat (the traditional Japanese seating on the tatami mats vs. Western-style dining tables). Private rooms are available too if you pay the extra charges. If you need assistance, the friendly staff will be more than happy to help you out.

Like a traditional ryokan, shoes need to be taken off at the entrance. While waiting, you can observe the elegant interior design. The high ceiling is like one of those in the luxurious ryokans.

Tamaruya’s Vegan Dishes

© 田丸屋

Among the meat and seafood-based udon menu, there is a vegan set menu, Shōjin Gozen (精進御膳). It was designed based on the menu from when the restaurant first opened in the 16th century. The sauce and broth used for the dishes included in the set menu are made from Konbu seaweed, mushrooms, and vegetables.

Note the photo is just an example of the set dish. Apart from the noodles and broth, what is served on the day can differ. But the taste is guaranteed!

Based on the day’s temperature and weather, the amount of each ingredient used to make the broth and noodles differs. This is how much effort Tamaruya puts into cooking to ensure the customers are happy with what they get on the tray. As you bite into the noodles, the nice aroma of wheat will spread in your mouth. The udon is so smooth you can easily swallow them without the dipping sauce!

Besides the typical Mizusawa Udon, Tamaruya also offers a special type of udon called Kirimugi (喜利麦), made from homemade whole wheat flour. The flat noodles are served in hot vegan broth and are consumed by dipping the noodles in olive oil and natural salt. Although Kirimugi was made using whole wheat flour, the noodles are smooth!

After finishing the meal, remember to check out the small garden beyond the corridor.

© 田丸屋
© 田丸屋

Tips:
☛ Tamaruya’s Maitake Tempura (舞茸天ぷら) is amazing!
☛ Tamaruya also has a café called Nohana (のはな) opposite the restaurant. Visit it for a cup of delicious coffee and a plate of dessert!

Tamaruya’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Tamaruya is open from 9 am to 3 pm or until sold out from Thursday to Tuesday.
  • The restaurant is a 2-minute walk from the bus stop, Mizusawa Kannon.

  • Mizusawa-tei (水澤亭): Another Mizusawa udon restaurant that offers a vegan menu. Please inform the staff that you are a vegetarian/vegan on the day.
  • Manyotei (うどん茶屋水沢 万葉亭): Manyotei can cater to the vegan diet if you let them know in advance of your visit.
    • Refer to the below for more information about the restaurant!

Tips:
☛ Mizusawa udon is most delicious when served cold.
☛ As most shops close when they are sold out, visit them early for lunch!

Manyotei (うどん茶屋水沢 万葉亭)

Another vegan-friendly restaurant that you can consider visiting is Manyotei. The restaurant has preserved the taste of Mizusawa udon, passed down for generations. There are many steps involved in making the udon, so the noodles take two days to make. With so much effort put into noodle making, there is no wonder why it has won the Monde Selection Grand Gold Award for over 10 years in a row!

As soon as you are seated, tea and Ikaho Onsen‘s famous Yunohana Manjū (湯の花まんじゅう) are served. If you aren’t too hungry, leave the sweet buns at the end of the meal as dessert. If you like the manjū, purchase some from the souvenir shop next to the restaurant!

In addition to the noodles, Manyotei is known for its homemade tofu side dishes and dessert, Maitake mushroom tempura, and Sashimi Konjac (さしみこんにゃく). The tofu at Manyotei is rich in flavor. The Mizusawa Tofu Awayuki (水沢とうふあわ雪) is especially recommended. This dish will surprise you with how well salt can go with tofu.

The tofu skin sashimi is also really popular.

Tips:
☛ If you are unsure what to order, the Tsuke Udon is nice.
☛ The regular noodle portion is large, and most people will find it satisfying.
☛ Order the tofu pudding before it is sold out.

Manyotei’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Manyotei can cater to the vegan diet if you let them know in advance of your visit. Please call them at +81-279-72-3038.
  • The restaurant is open from
    • 10:30 am to 3 pm on weekdays
    • 10:30 am to 3:30 pm on weekends and public holidays.
    • The last order is taken 30 minutes before it closes.
  • Manyotei is a 3-minute walk from the bus stop, Mizusawa Kannon.

Note the dipping sauce/broth contains bonito extracts in the restaurants below. If you are strict with the vegetarian/vegan diet and want to dine in a restaurant that can’t cater to it, you can bring your vegan dipping sauce to enjoy the noodles still.

  • Osawaya (大澤屋): One of the oldest Mizusawa Udon makers in town. It has 4 restaurants, 2 close to Mizusawa-dera Temple, 1 at Ikaho Stone Steps, and 1 at the east end of Ikaho Onsen Town.
    • Apparently, 27 processes are involved in making Osawaya’s udon noodles. It takes 2 days for the udon maker to turn wheat flour into amazing udon noodles served in the restaurant. You can surely taste the nice aroma of wheat when putting the chewy noodles into your mouth.
    • If you want to use your dipping sauce/broth, please visit Osawaya No.1 Shop (大澤屋 第一店舗).
  • Shimizuya (清水屋): Shimizuya is said to be the first udon maker in the Mizusawa area. The first owner learnt how to make udon noodles from Mizusawa Temple‘s monks, who offered the noodles to the pilgrims. So until now, the udon served at Shimizuya is handmade without using machines.
    • The owner is extremely friendly and speaks good English, so check with him if you are unsure what to order. He can even give you advice on the attractions nearby!
    • The butter-fried Maitake mushrooms (舞茸のバター炒) are phenomenal.
    • The sesame dipping sauce is ginger-infused, giving it a refreshing taste.
  • Matsushimaya (松島屋): A restaurant with a long history that spends 24 hours making noodles.
    • While not vegetarian, Matsushimaya offers 5 different dipping sauces, allowing customers to enjoy the udon in different ways.
    • The Maitake mushroom and vegetable (Sansai, 山菜) tempura at Matsushimaya is also really nice. The tempura remains crispy even when it is cold.
  • Tanjitei (本舗 丹次亭): It is a smaller restaurant established over 100 years ago. Located in a large old house, it is the perfect setting to enjoy Mizusawa udon.
    • The restaurant opens at 8:30 in the morning, so you can have breakfast at Tanjitei!
    • Tanjitei is a hidden gem. The food here is incredible, and it usually isn’t as crowded as other restaurants.
    • The volume of the side dishes tends to be bigger, giving you good value for the money.
  • Yamagen (手打ち水沢うどん山源): If you are after a relaxing place to enjoy Mizusawa udon, Yamagen is the restaurant to visit. The restaurant’s interior resembles a nice café and has classic music played in the background.
    • But note this does mean the turnover rate at Yamagen is slower than other larger restaurants such as Osawaya and Tamaruya.
    • The portion of a normal serving of noodles is more than other restaurants nearby.
    • The Maitake mushroom tempura is nice.

Important: Yamagen would appreciate it if you inform them in advance if you want to bring your vegan broth/dipping sauce.

  • Mimasuya (三升屋): A small restaurant run by a couple. No side menus are available, and there are only 2 noodle options. But the udon comes with a few homemade side dishes.
    • Noodles are only made and cooked after an order is received, so it can take a while before your noodles arrive.
    • The price here is much cheaper than other restaurants in Mizusawa, but the taste is awesome!
    • Arrive early as the noodles can run out by 12:30 pm.
  • Yamaichiya (手打うどん 山一屋): The restaurant sells honey-infused udon, making the noodles smoother.

Discover Mizusawa Temple’s Charms

After enjoying the delicious Mizusawa udon and Maitake mushroom tempura at one of the above restaurants, head to Mizusawa Temple, just a few-minute walk away. With 1,300 years of history, the temple is filled with amazingly built architecture and is a great cherry blossom and autumn foliage spot.

Refer to our Mizusawa Temple article for more information!

Rokakudo-Mizusawa-Temple-Shibusawa-Gunma-Japan
Click the photo for more information about Mizusawa Temple!