A wooden front addition makes it difficult to realize this restaurant is built of stone (Photo: Stacy Kurokawa)

Zou No Ie, Ohya, Utsunomiya

Thai Cuisine in a Ohya Stone Building

A wooden front addition makes it difficult to realize this restaurant is built of stone (Photo: Stacy Kurokawa)
Stacy Kurokawa   - 3 min read

Every visitor to Tochigi Prefecture ought to experience dining in an Ohya stone building, most commonly a former kura or traditional fireproof storehouse. Such buildings are usually beautiful and alluring inside and out. Zo no Ie, a cozy Thai restaurant on the outer perimeter of Utsunomiya is no exception.

Zou No Ie is about eight kilometers due west of Utsunomiya Station, along a straight, flat, narrow road, past the biggest high school in Japan, in Ohya. Scenic rock sculptures and rock works line the roadway. The village itself is little more than a museum, a temple, a bank, a pachinko parlor, rock works and Zou no Ie.

On a late Thursday morning in November, I was starving having skipped breakfast on account of my annual health check on Ohya Kaido. My husband had taken the day off to drive me there; our young son was at school. After my checkup, we headed to Zou No Ie. An open sign at the door put smiles on our faces. Another sign indicated that children were not welcome; perhaps most children like ours are not fond of spicy foods. Inside, housewives sat at almost every table, deep in conversation.

The ceiling is lined with reed mats, the stone walls covered with art, carvings and figurines of elephants abound and near the cash register at the front, beautifully carved soaps cover a sales table. We could see the autumn foliage through the two round, paned windows at the back of the restaurant, under which stands a stage and a variety of musical instruments and sound equipment. Later, I asked the friendly English-speaking chef about concerts and he handed me a pamphlet advertising a lunch set with live music the Sunday before Christmas, Y1500. I am sure every one of the 24 seats will be occupied for that occasion.

At first, we seated ourselves at a small table by the door. The chef implored us to move to a larger table, speaking English to me, but I replied that I was happy to be under the heater. All items on the menu under Y1000 appeared to be sold out; the waitress suggested we order the set lunch for two at Y2400 listed on the back of a menu and on a board in front of us, with a variety of options. We agreed. The waitress explained that our table was a too small to accommodate the meal so at last we moved to the bigger table.

The chef called from the kitchen to check if I was a vegetarian or not. Our meal took some time to come. The first course was spring rolls served on a plate with a huge, colorful elaborately carved but inedible gourd, and vinegar dip. Next, crab legs with curry sauce, sweet and just spicy enough that I didn’t have a runny nose, burning tongue or weeping eyes. I wished some rice had come with that dish. Next, came Thai mushroom curry with a small mound of rice. The sauce was thick, creamy and rich. After hot beverages, we drove five minutes down the road to the Ohya Kannon park to stretch our legs and take in the fall scenery.

Stacy Kurokawa

Stacy Kurokawa @stacy.kurokawa

It's with a love of adventure that I came to Japan in 2003.  I  love getting off the beaten track and getting around by bicycle.  In 2020, I qualified as a Forest Therapy Guide.  I guide in parks in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture nowadays.