Houtou or Hōtō 「ほうとう」 is a popular noodle hotpot dish (nabemono), which is local to Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan. You can find this local specialty around the Fuji 5 Lakes region at specialized restaurants, hotels, ryokan and other eating establishments.
This dish is often served in an iron pot and its soup is traditionally a miso based broth with pumpkin and other seasonal vegetables added. In addition, the noodles in the soup resemble extra thick udon noodles and they are chewier too!
Apparently, in the early days the locals tried to popularize hōtō as a tourist food by advertising it as the meal consumed by Takeda Shingen, the regional warlord during the era of warring states, and his samurai soldiers before going into battle.
I had previously seen hōtō being featured in one of the Japanese travel programmes on TV and as I had planned a short trip to Lake Kawaguchi, I made it a point to go try this hotpot. There are several restaurants which serve this dish but I was on a tight schedule and couldn’t afford to spend too much time travelling around for food, thus I picked the most convenient restaurant to get to, which is located directly opposite from the train and bus stations.
The exterior of the restaurant is covered with wooden panelling which makes it look like one of those traditional Japanese houses.
Main entrance to the restaurant:
The restaurant was quite full and we had to share a table with two Japanese ladies. We then placed our orders for the Houtou noodles (¥1080 per serving, inclusive of tax) and the table was set as per the picture below.
That squarish metal thingy is similar to a trivet, on which the hot iron pot will be placed on.
Wow…the serving looks quite big and I noticed that the 2 Japanese ladies who were seated next to us were unable to finish them. Most diners had ordered one pot of noodles each and we had followed suit.
Do be careful as the iron pot is hot and from the signs found at each table, you have already been warned!
The next photo will give you an idea of how big the iron pot is – you can either eat directly from the pot or transfer the noodles into the smaller bowl which is provided.
I couldn’t help overhearing the two Japanese ladies’ conversation as we were sharing the same table and they were talking so animatedly and trying to search for pieces of pumpkin in their pots of noodles but only one of them managed to find some and the other said she couldn’t find any, so she concluded it was completely dissolved in her soup! Hmm…upon hearing that, I started looking in mine to see if I could find any pieces of pumpkin in my pot of noodles and managed to find one which wasn’t dissolved! Yay!! It was nice and soft and tasted sweet. ^_^
I must say that the noodles were delicious and the soup was a hearty broth which really warms your heart as well as stomach! The ingredients were very fresh and the pumpkin soup had a nice consistency which was neither too thick nor watery. Believe it or not, I managed to finish everything! Yes, it was THAT good!!
When you are ready to make your payment, bring the bill that was placed faced down on your table, to the cashier counter. The restaurant also sells some local foodstuffs from around the region which you can purchase as souvenirs.
HOUTOU FUDOU 「ほうとう不動」
(opposite Kawaguchiko station)
Opening Hours: 11am 〜 7pm
If you are planning to dine here in the evenings or after 4pm on a weekday, please phone ahead to confirm the restaurant’s closing time as they will usually close shop when the noodles run out.
It takes half a minute to walk across to the restaurant from the Kawaguchiko train and bus stations.
By Train from Tokyo:
From Shinjuku take the JR Chuo Line「中央線」, change at Otsuki station「大月駅」 to the Fujikyu Railway「富士急行線」 to Kawaguchiko Station「河口湖駅」, which is the final stop.
By Highway Bus from Tokyo:
From Shinjuku’s West Exit Highway Bus terminal, board the Highway Bus headed for Kawaguchiko「河口湖」 or Yamanakako「山中湖」 and alight at Kawaguchiko Station「河口湖駅」.
There are 3 other branches of this restaurant besides the one which I visited.
North Kawaguchiko Head Store – 10 min by taxi from Kawaguchiko station.
South Kawaguchiko Store – 5 min by taxi from Kawaguchiko station.
Higashi Koiji Store – 8 min by taxi from Kawaguchiko station.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can choose to visit this branch of the restaurant as it is housed in a specially designed building which resembles a cloud (I personally think it looks like an igloo!).
Map Image Credit: Houtou Fudou