Nagano is famous for soba, among many other things. But where to go, especially in the countryside? We asked around to friends about their recommendations, and a restaurateur told us about this lovely soba restaurant in Azumino called Okina. Azumino is a pastoral part of Nagano that has the impressive Kita Alps, Northern Japanese Alps, guarding it to one side.
The menu was very simple, only four different soba dishes. No side dishes. At first I was disappointed, as I was hoping to linger over a few small dishes before the soba. But realized that a small menu is a good thing as turnover is very quick. There was always someone outside waiting to come in, and usually the wait was not too long, even on a sunny Sunday.
This is the classic example of a shokunin, a craftsman who excels at doing one thing. In this case, it is soba (buckwheat) noodles. The soba master, Wakatsuki-san, opened the shop at the age of 40 in 1997. Prior to that he was the manager at the Tokyo branch of the famous Hakone Akatsukian soba shop.
Inside just as you walk in you can see his workshop for making soba noodles. I assume that he is there in the mornings and that he then moves over to the kitchen to cook during service. While there were waitresses, he did sometimes come out and help with the front of the house.
Check out how simple the Azumino Okina menu is.
Zaru soba – cold soba with a dipping sauce (865 JPY)
Inaka soba – thicker soba served cold with a dipping sauce (865 JPY) – this was sold out when we arrived
Oroshi soba – cold noodles served with a spicy grated daikon (1,080 JPY)
Kamo seiro – cold noodles served with a hot dipping sauce of duck and leeks, garnished with yuzu (1,400 JPY)
The view was amazing. We had the Kita Alps as a backdrop. This is the view from the from the shop.
The soba (buckwheat) comes from Nagano, Ibaraki, and Hokkaido. The buckwheat is milled at the shop and the noodles are made in house. The noodles had a little bit of a bite to them, which I really enjoyed. The tsuyu is made with kombu, katsuobushi, and donko dried shiitake mushrooms. The soy sauce is Okubo soy sauce from Matsumoto in Nagano.
The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but will close early if they run out of soba.
To get to it you do need a car or by taxi, ten minutes from Akashina station in Azumino city, Nagano.
Azumino Okina Soba
Nagano-ken, Kita Azumi-Gun, Ikeda, Nakau 3056-5
We visited Okina after a trip to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.