Soba at Honmura An

Honmura An

Fresh Yuba on Chilled Soba

My first introduction to Honmura An was in New York City back about 15 years ago. A friend who loved soba wanted to share with me his favorite soba shop in the city. I was mesmerized with the stone grinder for crushing the dried buckwheat and impressed that the noodles were being made fresh daily. Sadly the Manhattan shop has since closed. Honmura An has since relocated to Tokyo, in Roppongi, just across the street and around a corner from the massive Tokyo Midtown complex. It is a short walk from Roppongi Hills or any of the Roppongi stations.

The interior is modern and sparsely decorated with simple washi, Japanese paper, that hangs from above. In the back of the restaurant there is a large window overlooking the soba prep room. Sadly when we arrived the rolling and cutting of the noodles were done for the first seating of lunch.

A few tables had solo diners, in their 20s, plugged into their own music or engrossed into their phones and the outer world. Most of the diners were area businessmen and ladies who lunch. The restaurant has a big menu of small bites that can be had before finishing off with soba. At lunchtime most people were not having the side dishes but all going straight for the buckwheat noodles. This day it was quite hot outside and as one would expect, most diners were ordering the cold noodles.

Honmura An

Ikura and Grated Daikon on Chilled Soba

I had asked if they had yakimiso, a classic dish of a sweet miso, often studded with buckwheat, that is grilled. I was disappointed when I was told it wasn’t served so we ordered two types of soba. One topped with a creamy, fresh yuba (soy milk skin) and the other a grated daikon and ikura (marinated salmon roe).

The noodles are fine and very delicate and this would be a great light lunch during the hot summers that Tokyo is known for.

Honmura An has a nice selection of saké and wine. I was so happy to see Urakasumi Junmaishu on the list that I didn’t even bother looking at the wine list. The saké is easy on the palate and a nice partner to the soba.

Honmura An

Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-14-18

03-5772-6657

English menu available.

Closed Monday and 1st & 3rd Tuesday

Marunouchi Raku Soba

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The guy sitting next to me said to his friend regarding the soba at Raku, “you’ll love it or hate it”. I had already started slurping away and I knew what he meant. It’s not your typical bowl of buckwheat noodles. These handmade noodles are thick cut and the densest soba I’ve ever had. The first bite I was caught off guard by the heartiness of the noodles. You wouldn’t take to bring your grandmother here. But I got into these chewy noodles as they are so different to the soba I am used to.

Early lunch diners are given the option of extra noodles at no charge. At first I said yes. Come on, who says “no” to free food, right? But then I looked one of the diner’s bowls and realized it might be too much for me to chew. I asked the cashier if the “oomori” was an extra large portion and maybe too much to finish and he said that it was. I asked for a regular bowl and even that I could not finish.

This is the tempura soba. Kabocha squash, eggplant, squid, and chikuwa tempura served on a bowl of noodles. Chikuwa is a fish cake that has been shaped into a log with a hole in it that has been grilled, not deep-fried, like many fish cakes. Chikuwa tempura is a classic topping for noodles in Japan, not only for soba but also for udon.

When placing your order you have to specify hot or cold. I almost always order cold noodles with a dipping sauce as it is a great way to enjoy the texture, aroma, and flavor of the buckwheat noodles. At Raku the dipping sauce and noodles are served in the same bowl. The waitress behind the counter generously tops each bowl of soba with two spoons of toasted sesame seeds and a nest of julienned nori. She has a rhythm down to topping each bowl and its done with speed in mind. On the counter are bowls of tenkasu, tempura bits that can also be used for topping the soba, highly recommended.

Raku has two long counters facing each other with staff in between the two counters. The frosted thermos is filled with cold soba tea that is slightly nutty and very refreshing. If you order the cold soba noodles a server will bring you a black thermos with sobayū, the hot water that has been boiling the soba noodles. Pour a bit of this into the bowl and you can drink the concentrated sauce.

My fellow diners were mostly salarymen eating a quick and affordable meal. No surprise as this is the Marunouchi business district. Most bowls are under 1,000 JPY ($10). The music was a surprisingly hip and upbeat salsa music. Not at all what one would expect to find at a soba shop, but this is not just any soba shop, what they are doing is definitely different. The shop was packed and I was there before the noon rush peak. I was impressed at the number of diners the restaurant squeezes into each counter. This would never pass in America, they would have taken at least two, if not three, seats away.

I would love to come back at night some time. The shop has a small selection of saké, umeshū, and shōchū and some small bites like lotus root stuffed with ground meat and deep-fried chicken cartilage. And, I would love to try the nikusoba, a generous serving of thin-sliced meat over the noodles. My only advice, avoid the peak lunch time, there is always a long line in front of this shop.

Suju Masayuki Raku 酢重正之 楽

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-5-1, Shin-Marunouchi Bldg. B1 千代田区丸の内1-5-1新丸ビルB1

Tokyo Soba Restaurants and Soba Menu

Here are some of my favorite Tokyo soba restaurants. This first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

Soba is in the midst of a renaissance. The humble buckwheat noodle has been receiving an increasing amount of attention from local TV shows and lifestyle magazines, and a further boost has come from the Slow Food movement, which emphasizes locally procured ingredients and terroir. Here are seven Tokyo restaurants that should be on the itinerary of any noodle fan.

Kanda Yabu Soba – UPDATE Kanda suffered extensive damage from a fire on 2/19/2013 and is temporarily closed.
Soba aficionados from around the country trek to this fifth-generation shop, which first opened in 1880 (above). Entering through the compact garden is like stepping back into old Tokyo. If you’re hungry for more than noodles, the diverse menu includes dishes like sashimi yuba (¥900), tempura (¥1,400) and grilled nori (¥600). There is also a full range of seiro soba (cold noodles on a tray, ¥700).

2-10 Kanda-Awajicho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3251-0287. Open daily 11:30am-8pm. Nearest stn: Ochanomizu.www.yabusoba.net

www.norenkai.net/english/shop/yabusoba/index.html (English)

Matsugen Soba
Contrast the vintage Kanda Yabu Soba with this modern shop in Ebisu. The communal tables are set in a dimly lit room—if you’re lucky, you can watch the noodles being rolled out and cut. Matsugen’s full menu includes an unusual bukkake soba that has a full dozen toppings (¥1,200), and an aromatic, toasty shirogoma-dare (sesame dipping sauce) that offers a nice contrast to the flavor of the noodles.

1-3-1 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3444-8666. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-3am, Sun & hols 11:30am-midnight. Nearest stn: Ebisu. www.pewters.co.jp

Nagasaka Sarashina
This ninth-generation soba shop has over 200 years of history behind it, and is famous for its pure, white sarashina noodles. Unlike the usual brown inaka soba, sarashina are made from buckwheat that’s polished to the core, resulting in a silky sheen. The basic mori soba (cold noodles) is served with two dipping sauces, amakuchi (sweet) and karakuchi (spicy), garnished with wasabi and julienned green onions (¥860). Diners can blend the sauces as they like.

1-8-7 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3585-1676. Open daily 11am-9pm. Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban, exit 5.www.nagasakasarasina.co.jp

Hanabusa
Off the beaten path in the shitamachi neighborhood of Monzen-Nakacho, this simple shop was recommended to me by a soba expert. While many restaurants on this list have a long history, the care and attention to the art of soba is particularly evident at Hanabusa. The shop offers three types of noodles: hearty inaka, classic Edo and the refined sarashina (all ¥700). For dessert, there’s soba ice cream (¥420) or dorayaki with sobako (soba flour), azuki and whipped cream (¥350).

2-2-15 Botan, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3630-4337. Open Mon-Sat 11am-3:30pm and 5-11pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Monzen-Nakacho. http://homepage2.nifty.com/hanabusa

Narutomi Soba
Narutomi was brought to my attention by local food writers. Situated in the far reaches of Ginza, this little gem has white walls and dark wooden tables that set the stage for the handmade noodles. Start with the signature earthy gobo tempura (¥630), thin slices fried to a crisp garnished with salt, and the soba-gaki, a dense cake made from soba flour (¥1,050). The tsuyu dipping sauce is on the sweet side, a nice match for the rustic seiro noodles (¥840).

8-18-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5565-0055. Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm and 6-8:45pm, Sat 11:30am-3pm, closed Sun, hols & every third Sat. Nearest stn: Shimbashi or Higashi-Ginza. http://narutomi-soba.net

Toranomon Sunaba
This two-story wooden building commands a corner on a Toranomon back street where it feels like time has stopped. Inside, the brightly lit interior gives the restaurant a more modern feel—standard tables and chairs are on the first floor and tatami seating on the second. The menu is classic soba, with a dipping sauce that leans toward the sweet side without being cloying. The mori soba noodles are served with wasabi and julienned negi (¥700).

1-10-6 Toranomon, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3501-9661. Open Mon-Fri 11am-8pm, Sat 11am-3pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Toranomon, exit 1. http://tinyurl.com/sunaba

Tomoecho Sunaba
Operating in the same location for five generations, Tomoecho Sunaba dates back to the Edo period. Unlike many traditional soba shops, this restaurant is in a modern building with an interior that’s heavy on black granite. The osusume (recommended) dish is the tororo soba made from grated naga-imo, egg yolk and a medium-sweet tsuyu (¥1,470). The slippery, mousse-like sauce provides a nice contrast to the earthy noodles, and staff will serve a bowl of rice to finish any that’s left.

3-11-3 Toranomon, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3431-1220. Open Sun-Fri 11am-3pm and 5-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Kamiyacho, exit 3. http://tinyurl.com/tomoecho

What’s on the menu?

Serious soba aficionados refer to themselves as “sobaliers”—that is, sommeliers specializing in the art of soba

Sobaliers recommend enjoying your noodles unadulterated, as in the dish known as mori soba: cold with a dipping sauce. Eating it this way one can enjoy the aroma and texture of the noodles

The tsuyu (dipping sauce) is made from a dashi combined with a concentrated broth called kaeshi—a blend of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin

One sobalier suggests that you should dip only the bottom third of the noodles in the tsuyu, then carefully slurp up the noodles

Look for signs that say “teuchi soba” (手打ちそば), or handmade soba.

Yakumi (toppings) include negi, wasabi, grated daikon, and a sprinkling of spicy shichimi togarashi.

After finishing your noodles, the staff will bring out soba yu, some of the hot water that the soba was cooked in. This liquid is poured into the remaining tsuyu dipping broth to make a savory, creamy hot soup to finish your meal.

Inaka soba “rustic” noodles, dark in color
Kake soba soba noodles topped with a hot broth
Kamo Namban soba­ duck, negi, and hot broth
Kawari soba featuring different flavors incorporated into the dough, such as yuzu, shiso and matcha
Kitsune soba sweet abura-age (deep-fried tofu) with a hot broth
Mori soba cold noodles with a dipping broth
Sansai soba with young mountain vegetables harvested in the spring
Sarashina most of the shell of the buckwheat is milled away, creating delicate beige noodles
Seiro soba (aka Zaru soba) cold soba noodles on a bamboo zaru (tray) with a dipping broth
Sobagaki a dense mochi-like cake made from soba flour
Sobagaki zenzai sobagaki cake served with red bean paste
Tanuki soba tenkasu (tempura bits) with a hot broth
Teuchi soba handmade noodles
Tororo soba served with grated yama-imo and often a raw quail egg

Teuchi Soba Narutomi in Ginza 手打ち蕎麦成富

Teuchi Soba Narutomi

Teuchi Soba Narutomi

Sobagaki

Sobagaki

Soba

Soba

Mori Soba

Mori Soba

Gobo Tempura

Gobo Tempura

Off the beaten path, I was introduced to Narutomi Soba by some Japanese food writers. White walls and dark wooden tables set the stage for handmade soba noodles. Narutomi’s selection of gorgeous pottery presents soba unlike most shops. Start with the signature earthy gobo tempura, thin slices fried to a crisp garnished with salt. The tsuyu (broth) is on the sweet side, a nice match for the rustic noodles. The sobagaki is a dense cake of buckwheat flour simply boiled until cooked through. The yakimiso (grilled miso on a paddle) is a unique dish often only found at soba restaurants. Narutomi Soba is conveniently located between Ginza and Tsukiji.

Teuchi Soba Narutomi  手打ち蕎麦成富

Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-18-6, Futaba Bldg. 1F

03-5565-0055

Monday – Friday 11:30 – 15:00, 18:00 – 20:45

Saturday 11:30 – 15:00

Closed Sunday, holidays and third Saturday

http://narutomi-soba.net/ (Japanese)

Update on July 31, 2012: A reader of Food Sake Tokyo visited Narutomi recently and wrote in to share this lovely story:

We went to Teuchi Soba Narutomi, and when I realized they did not have an English menu I pulled out your book to order what your recommended.  The owner, Masaaki, had come out because I guess we were a bit of a novelty there (kids included).  He saw the book in my hand and said, “I know her.”  He then rounded out the items you suggested with a few other things, sort of a customized tasting menu.  It was a warm, lovely, special experience.

Kanda Matsuya Soba 神田まつや

Kanda Matsuya

Kanda Matsuya

Kanda Matsuya Mori Soba

Kanda Matsuya Mori Soba

Kanda Matsuya Tempura Soba

Kanda Matsuya Tempura Soba

Kanda Matsuya 神田まつや

Chiyoda-ku, Kanda Jimbocho 1-13 千代田区神田神保町1-13

Phone: 03-3251-1556

11:00 – 20:00 Monday – Friday

11:00 – 19:00 Saturday and holidays

closed Sundays

http://www.kanda-matsuya.jp/p01.htm

Kanda Matsuya opened their doors in 1884. The soba is made from 5 parts buckwheat flour to 1 part flour. The dipping sauce is “karame” or on the dry side (versus being sweet). A popular dish here is the goma soba which is served with a a sesame dipping sauce. Other recommended dishes are the mori soba, tempura soba (both pictured here), and kake soba (hot noodles).

Tokyo Cheap Eats – Kanda Yabu Soba

Yabu Soba

Yabu Soba

UPDATE: Kanda Yabu Soba caught on fire on February 19, 2013. 40 customers and employees were in the restaurant during dinner service when the fire was noticed. Everyone was safely evacuated. A spokesperson for Kanda Yabu Soba has said on NHK news the following day that the restaurant hopes to reopen in six months.

If you are to visit only one soba shop in Tokyo, then it should be Yabu Soba in Kanda. Soba aficionados from around the country trek to this fifth generation shop that opened in 1880. Enter through a compact garden and step back in time in this old building. The room is traditional Japanese with dark colored wood and paper-covered lights. Listen carefully and you can hear the girl behind the cash register sing out each order to the kitchen. This is the only place in Japan that I have seen this done. The elderly kimono clad waitresses efficiently manage the busy dining room. If you are hungry the diverse menu allows you to order a few dishes prior to closing the meal with noodles, like sashimi yuba, tempura, and grilled nori. There is also a full menu of soba, both hot and cold.

Seiro Soba

Seiro Soba

Kanda Yabu Soba かんだやぶそば

Chiyoda-ku, Awajicho 2-10 千代田区淡路町2-10

Tel. 03-3251-0287

11:30 – 19:30

some holidays in January and August

www.yabusoba.net (Japanese)

www.norenkai.net/english/shop/yabusoba/index.html (English)