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Between the castle town of Hirosaki and the prefectural capital Aomori city lays a hidden refuge from the hustle and bustle of busier cities.
What sets Niché, a 10-minute walk from Namioka Station, apart from the McDonalds and Mos Burgers littered across Tohoku region is its eclectic burger offerings and humble charm.
In addition to traditional beef burgers, Niché’s offers something simple: soy. Niché vegan soy burger in Aomori is free from any animal byproducts, including egg, butter, and other dairy. It’s vegan, halal, kosher, and most importantly, tasty.
Its owner, Yukita Hayato, is an Aomorian from birth (just like the shop’s locally sourced apples, tomatoes, and potatoes). He was inspired to open Niché when an acquaintance of his introduced him to soy meat. Soy burgers contain fewer calories than traditional burgers and according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in conjunction with the JPHC (多目的コホート研究), eating soy seems to deliver some anticarcinogenic health benefits as well.
The restaurant’s atmosphere is warm, hip, and inviting; my recent trip to Niché was no exception.
A New Orleans-styled jazz band played in the background, tasteful kitsch was nestled throughout the interior, and each table had endearing handwritten info cards of soy burgers for curious Japanese customers. I picked up an old copy of Casa Brutus and sat down. Meanwhile, Hayato kindly greeted me and started grilling up my usual order — avocado, bacon, and cheese— or how we nicknamed it “The ABC Burger”. He had been putting avocados on my burgers months before McDonalds Japan added it to their menu.
Hayato grills all the burgers by himself. They come with a side of potato wedges and slightly chilled ketchup. You can taste the detail of Niché’s burgers in every bite. Hayato also lightly toasts the burger buns so they’re crisp, yet still fluffy. The lemonade is mixed on the spot and the meat patty was grilled to perfection. Some days when I go to Niché with friends I like to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere. Other days I take it to go and unrepentantly scarf down the succulent burger. A well-crafted burger is a rarity in rural Japan, so Niché hits the spot when I need it the most.
Every spring, 2 million people come to Hirosaki to walk the castle grounds and see the cherry blossoms. And every summer, 3 million people come to Aomori city to participate in the Nebuta folk parade. If you come during those hectic weeks, I recommend making a stop at Namioka station and visit Niché for a breather. A vacation to the Tsugaru countryside would be incomplete without one.
By Jared Oliva