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 but is now open again.
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 – UPDATE This is now a members’ only restaurant. It is closed to non-members.
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

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Shotengai Shopping Arcades – Walking Food Tours of Tokyo

Shotengai

Shotengai

I love the shotengai, Japanese shopping arcades. Filled with ma and pa shops selling tofu, fresh produce, rice, pickles, miso, and other basics of the Japanese pantry. This article recently appeared in Metropolis magazine and features five of my favorite shotengai in Tokyo.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/local-flavors/street-eats/ (text follows)

While the one-stop food shopping at Tokyo’s depachika is an amazing experience, the gourmet eats come with a high price tag. At the other end of the spectrum are the places where most Japanese do their daily shopping: neighborhood shopping streets known as shotengai, where you’ll find mom and pop shops selling vegetables, fish, meat, rice and even handmade tofu. The Tokyo Shotengai website (http://meturl.com/shotengai) lists over 550 of these shopping streets; here are some of our favorites.

KAGURAZAKA 神楽坂

This foodie neighborhood is filled with many fantastic shops along the main drag. Try 50-ban (3-2 Kagurazaka) for its steamed buns, Kintokiya (2-10 Kagurazaka) for wagashi made from sweet potatoes, and the gorgeous Rakuzan (4-3 Kagurazaka) for tea. Isuzu (5-34 Kagurazaka) offers a variety of Japanese-style sweets and, if you walk along the street far enough, Baikatei (6-15 Kagurazaka) has fantastic handmade wagashi. Nearest station: Iidabashi

NIPPORI 日暮里

Just outside of Nippori station lies the Yanaka shotengai—very typical of what you would imagine an old-style shopping street to be like. Two of the area’s meat shops are famous for their menchikatsuNiku no Sato (3-13-2 Yanaka) and Niku no Suzuki (3-15-5 Nishi-Nippori). Goto no Ame (3-15-1 Nishi-Nippori) has a colorful selection of candies. There are many options, including deep-fried tofu balls known as ganmodoki, at Musashiya (3-9-15 Yanaka), oyatsu-pan (snack breads) at Atomu Bakery (3-11-14 Yanaka), and skewered and grilled seafood at Fukushima Shoten (3-13-4 Yanaka). Note that a lot of the shops are closed on Mondays.Nearest stn: Nippori. www.yanakaginza.com

NINGYOCHO 人形町

The historic Ningyocho district is always a delight to visit. While you’ll find many shops selling the local specialty, ningyoyaki (small cakes filled with azuki bean paste), there are many other interesting stores. On the famous Amazake Yokocho shotengai is Futaba Tofu (2-4-9 Ningyocho), with a variety of tofu products and also the sweet, creamy drink for which this street is named. Hojicha tea is the specialty of Morinoen (2-4-9 Ningyocho), while the long line outside the tiny Yanagiya (2-11-3 Ningyocho) is a testament to the popularity of its taiyaki sweet-bean cakes—considered one of the three best varieties in the city. Ningyocho’s most famous restaurant may well be Tamahide (1-17-10 Ningyocho), renowned for its oyako-don rice bowls. Nearest stn: Ningyocho.

KICHIJOJI 吉祥寺

Just north of Kichijoji station is Sun Road, a covered shotengai filled with many small shops. Among the several worth exploring are traditional German bakery Linde (1-11-27 Kichijoji-Honcho) and Meat Shop Sato (1-1-8 Kichijoji-Honcho), which is famous for its menchikatsu and wagyu and which also has a popular restaurant on the second floor, usually with a long line. Okashi no Machioka (1-15-1 Kichijoji-Honcho) will have your eyes spinning with all of the different types of candies, sweets and snacks. In the evening, the Harmonica Yokocho strip is filled with small restaurants that are perfect for a drink and some nibbles. Tecchan is a popular yakitori spot—if you can squeeze in (1-1-2 Kichijoji-Honcho). Nearest stn: Kichijoji.

AZABU-JUBAN 麻布十番

This popular foodie street in the heart of the city is easy to navigate. The renowned Mamegen (1-8-12 Azabu-Juban) tempts customers with over 90 varieties of flavored rice crackers, including uni, wasabi and curry, but it’s the shio-okaki (deep-fried and salted) that are irresistible. The taiyaki at the extremely popular Naniwaya Sohonten (1-8-14 Azabu-Juban) are made by the shop’s fourth-generation owners. Hasegawa Saketen (2-2-7 Azabu-Juban) has well-selected sake, shochu and umeshu. If you’re craving meat, the yakitori at Abe-chan (2-1-1 Azabu-Juban) will hit the spot. Alternatively, slurp up some soba noodles at Nagasaka Sarashina (1-8-7 Azabu Juban), notably the delicate, white sarashina noodles. Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban.