Love for Noodles
It’s no secret. I’m a noodle-lover. Give me rice or noodles, and I’ll choose noodles at any time. Back in Singapore, noodles are my first choice – soup/dry, doesn’t matter. So it’s natural that I eat a lot of ramen in Japan and I love all sorts of ramen – pork broth, fish broth, salt or shoyu or miso base. I guess my taste buds are pretty much adjusted to the level of sodium used here, so the “too salty” ramen (quoted from family and friends) doesn’t bother me.
Ramen is one of the Japanese foods you will definitely try when you are in Japan, probably after sushi. But as someone living in Tokyo, sometimes I yearn for some really good Japanese buckwheat noodles. There are plenty of soba restaurants here in Tokyo. From those fast-food style eateries you find near train stations to the traditional restaurants with over 100 years of history, there’s something you can try.
New Soba Encounter
I had a new soba encounter this week when I took my belated Golden Week holiday. We were thinking of travelling to Kansai area but there was a change of plans to explore the un-explored areas in Tokyo. It took us around an hour on Tokyo metro to reach this side of the city but we came with a purpose – to try out this place that serves 100% soba noodles.
What is 100% soba noodles or what we call as Juwari-soba (十割そば)?
Basically, it means soba noodles that are 100% made from buckwheat flour. The most common soba noodles you find are usually made of 20% wheat flour and 80% buckwheat flour. It is actually not easy to make soba from pure buckwheat flour as they don’t stick together well, so that’s why the common soba noodles have wheat flour and other ingredients mixed with buckwheat flour to make the dough sticky enough for noodles.
Anyway this means that if you see a restaurant serving 100% soba noodles, it will imply the chef has the skills to make this. We had our fair share of tasting 100% soba noodles outside of Tokyo, but this is the first time to find a place within Tokyo.
We didn’t make a reservation in advance, so we tried to go there first thing in the morning, hoping there is no line of customers waiting or even worse to be turned down due to full bookings. Fortunately, we could have seats at the counter. We ordered the limited week-day only sets – soba x tempura set and 3 types of soba x tempura set.
We were first served some ice water with soba crackers. These crackers are lightly salted, a good start as appetizers.
Soba gaki – a rare serving
Then for the first dish for 3 types of soba x tempura set, they served soba mash or what we call as soba gaki (蕎麦がき). I think this is one of the best soba gaki we have ever tasted. Usually they are a little dry or hard, but this one is soft and melts in your mouth. We knew immediately the soba noodles here will be heavenly from the taste of their soba gaki.
Crispy tempura coming up…
Next, they serve us the tempura that comes with the soba set. The ingredients used for tempura will change according to what kind of ingredients the restaurant can get daily. For our set, we had eggplant, manganji pepper (万願寺唐辛子, a type of pepper from Kyoto), and mixed tempura with shrimp (エビのかき揚げ). It’s just nicely deep-fried and goes well with some salt and also tempura tsuyu.
Here comes the main act – Soba noodles!
Next, they serve us the soba noodles. It’s difficult to find a place that serves excellent soba AND dipping sauce (or tsuyu) at the same time. But this place got a perfect score for both. It definitely did justice to the soba noodles when you have good tsuyu too.
Do not dip in the sauce immediately. Usually I like to taste the soba noodles first, and you can enjoy the flavour as it is. Next, you can dip half of the soba noodles into the sauce and slurp loudly. I tried not to do this too loudly in case of “noodle harassment”.
For another set that comes with 3 types of soba, you can get to enjoy the raw style, 100% pure soba style and the hot soba style. It’s really a soba wonderland to taste all 3 types at the same time. The chef also made it a point to introduce the type of soba and where the ingredients are from.
Sobayu – a must-try!
Usually when you have cold soba noodles, after you have finished the noodles, you will be served a pot of soba-yu that you can pour into your leftover tsuyu, and make it into some after-meal beverage. Soba-yu is basically the hot water that was used to boil the soba noodles, so you get all the nutrients in this “soup”. My eyes practically lit up when I see that the soba-yu they serve is so thick! I think it’s very rare to get such genuine soba-yu because some restaurants may dilute with hot water or mix with wheat flour to give it a “thicker” look. You know you got the real thing when you try drinking this soba-yu by itself.
Pudding as dessert!
Finally, we were served some salty caramel pudding. It’s a nice dessert to end off this very satisfying meal.
It’s a worthwhile trip to come all the way here to discover this soba restaurant, which we wouldn’t think exist in Tokyo. Now I know where to go, whenever I have craving for 100% pure soba noodles!