I’m gazing into my glass of sake and predicting that soba is the next ramen.
Right now, getting into a ramen joint like Ippudo or Totto is a practice in futility. I’ve seen ads on Taskrabbit next to Ikea assembly requests offering to pay people to stand in line for 3 hours for them at these places. When eating noodles is as much of a pain in the ass as putting together Swedish furniture we have a problem.
But like all trends this too shall pass. Ramen is the new black right now, but I’m predicting that soba will be the new ramen. It’s versatile, healthy, delicious and slurp-able. What’s not to love?
A little history…
Soba became popular in the Tokugawa period (between 1603 and 1868 for those of you NOT familiar with Japanese history…like me). At this time in Tokyo there was a pretty comfortable middle class that could afford the highfalutin polished white rice where all the husk, bran, and germ were removed. Thanks to General Mills commercials we all now know that whole grains are better than processed ones because they contain more nutrients. That being said, all these folks in Tokyo started having serious B1 deficiencies. Guess what has a bunch of B1? Buckwheat! Enter soba noodles.
Finding Sobakoh isn’t exactly difficult. When you see the glass booth with a gentleman artfully crafting soba noodles you know you’ve arrived. We arrived early on a Friday evening because I read about their doozy of an early bird special. They offer four courses for just $19.50 from 5:30-7. It turns out we didn’t get the soba because we were sucked in by the specials, but we were happy to get there early because the small place fills up quickly.
We started with sake…but of course. I’ve been reading up on sake as of late but instead of flexing my new knowledge I caved and ordered the house sake, which, was lovely and inexpensive so all in all it was a good choice.
Three menu items called us with their siren song and we couldn’t resist. The fried eel bone, house made soba tofu and seared duck sashimi were irresistible sounding so we ordered them. We also ordered a hot and cold version of the special soba they had listed that day.
Oh fried eel bone, where have you been my whole life? When I googled this delight I found a few pictures of them being sold more or less as a bag of chips, which makes sense, because they’re crispy, salty and delicious. They taste of the sea and of eel in the best way possible. I could have munched on these all evening.
The duck sashimi was another winner. Briefly seared on the outside and raw on the inside it came with two dipping sauces that complimented the rich duck flavor wonderfully. Sometimes duck can be cooked beyond recognition but this preparation showcased the flavor, texture and overall delicateness of duck that is often missing.
The soba tofu surprised the hell out of me. Unlike some generic tofu this soba tofu was nutty and flavorful. The texture was silky but still held up to chopsticks, and all it needed was a smidge of soy sauce to make it sing. They also topped it with some shiso leaf and wasabi which did actually compliment it wonderfully but I recommend eating a small piece of the tofu with just soy sauce first to experience it au natural.
When the soba came out we were already on cloud nine after three amazing dishes and a bottle of sake. The soba kept the happiness ball rolling.
I recently fell in love with cold soba after visiting an Izakaya(Ootoya) where they serve cold soba with a crazy good, and also crazy crazy dipping sauce of (forgive me for this) snotty grated yam and soy sauce. It’s fantastic, believe it or not. Looking for an experience like the one I had at Ootoya I ordered a house special cold soba and Nick went for a hot.
His hot soba swam in a broth jam packed with umami. Their website says they use dried bonito (fish) in their broth. It was rich and soul soothing. There was some shredded nori and grated mountain yam floating on top for added texture and dimension. It was fantastic.
My cold soba was a mouth pleasing delight. I love cold soba because of the wonderful mouth feel and pure buckwheat taste and this showcased both very well. Mine was topped with grated radish and came with a simple soy-like sauce that I poured over it. It was so tasty in it’s simplicity, something the Japanese do very well. I have to say that the creamy almost snotty grated yam and soy sauce(there might have been an egg yolk in there too) I had at Ootoya coated the soba better but this version was clean, simple and lovely.
I wish I took notes on the price of the small plates but I didn’t. I can assure you that all of them were reasonable priced. I believe the tofu and eel were both in the $7 range and the duck might have been in the $12 range. The sobas were around $10, give or take and the house sake was in the same ballpark.
There’s seating for about 20-ish in the small but comfortable dining room. They take credit cards but I don’t think they take reservations for small groups.
If you’re looking to be on the cutting edge of the next food trend take my advice and start soba-tasting now before the wait time is longer than a movie and people are hiring folks online to stand in line for them. It’s bound to happen.