One of the foods in Japan that we have come to love since moving here is soba (蕎麦) noodles. They are one of the most affordable meals you can buy in a restaurant and are also super easy to cook at home.
Soba: How to enjoy the healthy meal
There are many health benefits to soba noodles. Made from buckwheat, they are gluten free, high in soluble fiber, low in fat and a great source of vitamins and minerals. One unusual aspect about soba and noodles in general in Japan is they often eat them cold, especially in summer, a concept I was unsure about at first but now have come to love! Soba noodles can also be eaten hot and are served plain, accompanied by a dipping sauce made up of dashi (出汁), soy sauce, sugar and mirin (味醂), often with spring onions and wasabi (山葵) to taste. At home we cook edamame (枝豆) beans as a side dish, but at a restaurant you will likely find them served with delicious crispy tempura (天ぷら). They have a hearty wholegrain taste and a slightly grainy texture which makes them a completely different experience to udon or conventional pasta.
My fiancé, Bruno, looks after our boss’s son every week along with his grandfather with whom, despite the language barrier, he has struck up a solid friendship. Impressed with how much Bruno can eat, he often takes him out to various restaurants in Imabari which is how we discovered a number of great local soba spots.
Shinshu Soba Kubota’s soba challenge
Shinshu Soba Kubota (信州そば久保田) is well known for its substantially large servings and the spectacular tempura. The biggest serving on the menu is reminiscent of a mountain; the noodles are piled so high they can barely be contained on the plate. It is called the Soba Challenge among the locals.
I myself ordered a regular size which I found more than substantial. The accompanying tempura included local vegetables such as lotus root, shiso (紫蘇) leaf, sweet potato and pumpkin.
Much to the surprise of the restaurant patrons, Bruno breezed through his soba mountain with ease, even finishing up any stray tempura that others had left untouched because they were so full.
There are many choices on the menu according to how you like your soba, including a few soup options. As in most Japanese restaurants they also serve oden (おでん) for around 50 yen a piece. Oden is a hot pot stew usually containing various traditional foods such as konnyaku (蒟蒻), fish cakes, whole eggs, burdock root, deep fried tofu and daikon (大根). They are put on sticks and cooked in a soy based dashi soup, which is where they are kept warm until you fish them out of the hot liquid to eat. Traditionally this is a winter food in Japan but seems to be widely available all year round in Imabari.
Another local favorite introduced to us by our boss’s father is Sobaya Isso-an (そば家一創庵) which you will find full even on a weekday. It has many menu sets on offer with various tempura and side dishes at great prices.
My first soba experience was at this restaurant; I learnt how to mix the dipping sauce with some of the hot cooking water from the noodles which they give you in a jug. This warms it up which helps to dissolve the wasabi. They also make tea from the cooking water due to its many health properties which is provided complimentarily for all diners; it has an almost savory flavor which I personally enjoy. I really appreciate this kind of cooking which in typical Japanese fashion aims for maximum health benefits and minimum waste in the process of having a meal.
If you are lucky enough to be nearby one of these fantastic restaurants on your travels I would highly recommend a visit, and if not then at least do not leave without trying this healthy and delicious local food wherever you may be in Japan!
Shinshu Soba Kubota
- Address: 163-9 Machiya, Imabari, Ehime Prefecture 799-1514
- Opening hours: 11:00-15:00 and 17:00-20:00 Tuesday to Friday, 11:00-15:00 Saturday to Sunday. Closed on public holidays.
- For reservations, call 0898-47-3787 (+81-898-47-3787).
- Address: 3-1-51 Higashitoriuchō, Imabari, Ehime Prefecture 794-0801
- Opening hours: 11:00-20:30 Friday to Wednesday, and 11:00-15:30 on Thursday.
- For reservations, call 0898-31-6369 (+81-898-31-6369).