5 Famous Soba Restaurants to Visit While in Japan
For the Japanese, soba noodles are a type of "fast food" that can be had for a casual meal. All regions across Japan have their own variation of this dish, which has been loved by the masses since ancient times. Here you will find a selection of restaurants that serve soba including the 3 major types, as well as 2 other types that aren't as well-known.
1. Shinshu soba at Azumino Okina (Nagano)
The soba noodles in this restaurant are made with 100% homemade buckwheat flour using buckwheat that they receive directly from their contracted farmers. We especially recommend their Inaka soba, in which the dark colored and thick noodles are firm and springy. The rich dipping sauce brings out the flavor and aroma of the soba noodles. Inaka soba is a popular dish and it sells out easily, so we recommend going early if you want to have some. Azumino Okina is not in an easily accessible location, but it is so popular that customers queue in front of it even before it opens. The view from the restaurant is superb, featuring cherry blossoms in the spring and snow in the winter, so customers can enjoy a beautiful view of Azumino all throughout the seasons.
2. One of the three major types of soba: Izumo soba at Kenjo Soba Haneya Main Branch (Shimane)
Kenjo Soba Haneya is a restaurant specializing in Izumo soba founded around 1800. Izumo soba noodles are made using even the buckwheat shells, which makes them look darker and more fragrant than the usual, and also provides them with a characteristic texture. The soba noodles of Haneya are made following the traditional method of powdering the buckwheat and making the noodles by hand. Their noodles are considered to be good even without any kind of seasonings, and the restaurant receives visits of fans from afar who love their offerings. Usually, soba noodles are dipped in a soup to eat them. However, in the case of Izumo soba, the soup is poured in a circular bowl to eat the noodles. It is said that during the Edo period (1603 - 1868), it was customary to eat soba outside for lunch, resulting in this eating style. If you are visiting Izumo, make sure to drop by "Haneya" to enjoy the traditional taste of soba the old way. Besides the main restaurant, the chain owns two other branches within the city of Izumo.
3. One of the three major types of soba: Wanko soba at Azumaya (Iwate)
Azumaya is a soba restaurant established more than 100 years ago where you can enjoy wanko soba. The word wanko makes reference to the bowls where the soba noodles are served. When your wanko, which is served with just enough noodles for a mouthful, becomes empty, a member of the staff will immediately say "Hai, janjan!" as they add serving after serving of noodles. Even if you are full, as long as you do not put the lid on your bowl, the staff will continue to add noodles in your bowl. Since they are really fast at this, you may even struggle to find the best timing to do this - this is really food entertainment! Apparently, 15 servings of wanko soba make for a regular single portion of soba. If you eat more than 100 servings you will receive a Wanko Soba Certificate - make sure to get yours!
*This is a sample image.
4. Hegisoba at Nakanoya (Niigata)
Nakanoya is popular for the smooth texture and full body of their soba noodles, whose dough is mixed with nori seaweed, which makes them look greener than the usual. The word "Hegi" makes reference to the containers used to serve the soba. They are rectangular wooden boxes on which several servings of soba are arranged in bite-sized portions. At Nakanoya they are very particular about their buckwheat flour, which is made at a room that is kept at the ideal temperature and humidity for this purpose, and only the necessary amount of flour is ground when needed. In addition, many of the customers order their maitake tempura (breaded deep fried mushrooms) to go with the soba, which are popular for being fragrant and very delicious. Make sure to try their selection of locally made Japanese sake, which is priced very reasonably, and goes very well with both soba and tempura.
5. Fuji Oshino Hakkai Tenshoan (Yamanashi)
Tenshoan, in the old Kayabuki Yane which stands on top of a mountain surrounded by greenery, is famous among soba connoisseurs. Their soba noodles are made using domestic buckwheat flour and pure water from one of the selected 100 exquisite spring waters of Japan. The noodles are available in limited quantities only, so we recommend visiting the restaurant early in the day. They have a plentiful variety of seasonings available, so you can combine them according to your taste. The grilled miso paste that they serve on a wooden spoon is really delicious too, so make sure to give it a try. The clear and blue spring water of Fuji Oshino Hakkai is said to be a power spot. We suggest going on a stroll to see the beautiful spring water after satisfying your hunger at Tenshoan.
Did you enjoy the article? While soba is a word to designate one type of food, the dish can be really different depending on each restaurant's preferences. Make sure to enjoy some soba while in Japan, as this is a dish that has always been loved by the Japanese and there are as many different ways to eat it as regions in the country.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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