This was a little bit of an experience. Originally, this was going to be part of a blog about Japanese food experiences in general but then I kept typing so now, it get it’s own post.
I’ve watched pretty much every episode of all of Anthony Bourdain’s shows & I can’t keep straight which episode is associated with which series. Anyway, I once watched an episode of one of his shows during a visit to Tokyo, where he stopped at a small soba restaurant. In the episode, he watches the entire process, starting with them making the soba noodles. I figured I could try to go to that exact restaurant but then I would have to wait for day by myself in Tokyo & it’s probably busy after being featured on his show, so I decided to find my own soba spot. I did not witness the noodle making from scratch (I don’t really think that’s a thing unless your name is Anthony Bourdain) but I still had a great time.
I found a spot called Kanun here in Yokosuka. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far from our hotel & I can walk there in maybe like 10 minutes. It’s a little spot that I never would have noticed, had I not found someone else’s blog post about it, because it’s down a little flight of stairs and from the top, it doesn’t give a whole lot of indication that it’s there. The sign is in Japanese and I used a picture I found online to compare the outside of the restaurant to make sure I had the right spot. In America, they tell you to avoid the alleyways for your safety. Around here, it’s encouraged to go down the alleyways to see what you can find.
Once inside, the place was actually surprisingly large considering what it looked like from the outside & I was immediately made to feel welcome by the friendly staff, who didn’t speak English but could hand you a sign printed in English if they needed to tell you something. We were able to communicate through pointing & the words “soba” & “tempura.” I figured out what I wanted to have before I arrived to simplify the experience for myself, which was the best thing I could have done because there’s totally a specific process that goes into eating soba & I actually had to look it up to know what I was doing. Who knew noodles could be so complicated?? Never before in my life have I had to youtube how to eat something. There’s a video showing several people eating it incorrectly & I didn’t want to be one of those people.
First, they give the option: soba noodles (thinly sliced made from buckwheat) or udon noodles (thick sliced made from wheat flour)? My entire purpose for selecting this restaurant was to try the soba. Next, did I want hot soba (served in a broth, like ramen or soup) or cold soba (served chilled with a dipping sauce), aka zaru soba? I already knew I wanted the cold soba. They give the options to have just the soba or with an accompaniment, and I chose one of the tempura options, which consisted of shrimp, green pepper, eggplant, & pumpkin.
Let me just start by saying that I’m pretty into shrimp tempura & I eat it somewhat regularly, but the shrimp was probably my least favorite things on my plate. It was good & everything I would expect, but the veggies were so amazing that the shrimp took second place. I love eggplant anyway, & I like green peppers, but I’d never had them in the form of tempura & they both blew me away. I was pleasantly surprised by the pumpkin because it was seriously delicious. I see it at the groccery store sometimes but I always thought it seemed a little strange but I have changed my mind! It was an actual slice of pumpkin, lightly breaded and deep fried & I think it really might have taken the cake for me here. So good!
When they bring the food, you’re supposed to start with tasting the soba on it’s own to appreciate the taste of the noodle itself. Then you’re supposed to taste the dipping sauce to appreciate the work & care that goes into making it. If you’re a Japanese person who is very familiar with this dish, I don’t know if you would bother…? I not sure but this is what I got out of my research so I did that. I was given a separate plate with wasabi, scallions &… somehing else. I’m not sure what it was. People are allowed to decide for themselves how much or how little they want to use & you’re supposed to stir it directly into the sauce, not put it on top of the noodles. I dipped one bite before adding any of them to the sauce but after that, I just stirred them all in. Just like with anything else, chopsticks are the utensils (I even saw them cooking with some) so there’s no noodle twirling here. Use the chop sticks, pick up enough noodles for a decent bit but not too much, so it all can all be eaten in one bite without biting it to break the noodles apart. It’s totally a good thing to slurp your noodles! It took me a few bites to get the hang of slurping because it goes against everything I know about eating pasta, but it’s how it’s done. The guy next to me at the bar really had his slurping down to a science though! After dipping the noodles in the sauce, it’s okay & even encouraged to pick up the bowl of sauce as you slurp your noodles in an effort to get as much sauce as possible (as well as to avoid splattering broth on your clothes), with the noodles acting as the vehicle between the sauce & your mouth. Dip, don’t soak. Slurping is a sign of enjoyment. I’m no pro with the chop sticks so I think I actually did a decent job even though I dropped a few noodles in my sauce. They gave me two sauces, one for the tempura and one for the soba but I was unsure of which was which, & this was clear to one of waitresses, who came & clairified the matter for me. I was appreciative to her because I was leaning towards using the wrong sauce. From what I’ve seen online, some places will provide soba water, which is the water used to boil the noodles & is used to add to the dipping sauce, turning it into a beverage to drink at the end of the meal so no sauce is wasted. This place didn’t do that but they didn’t give me so much sauce that much was wasted either. I think that once you dip, you’re not supposed to dip again but I broke this rule with my tempura. I wasn’t sharing my dipping sauce, which was pretty damn good, so I just didn’t care. This is probably my favorite Japanese dish so far.
I’m really glad I can check this off my list now because this was definitely among the things I really wanted to do while we were here.
I should have taken some close ups on my tempura but I’m only thinking of that just now.
I’m so glad I took the time to look into how to eat this! I would have embarrassed myself otherwise and probably would have been throwing the scallions on my noodles or something. It’s definitely something I would recommend & will probably eat at least once more before we leave. I think it was one of the more authentic experiences I’ve had in my time here in Japan. When I have these experiences, whether it’s related to food or seeing something historical or culturally relevent, I always feel very fulfilled after the fact.