Have you ever had real soba (buckwheat noodles) in your life? If not, you should!
One man, Mr. Yasuo Katakura, devoted himself to the world of soba. He was called Soba-Sei (“Saint Soba”) because of this special devotion. He believed 100% that food, when prepared carefully (“know its essence”) and with love, has the ability to make us whole physically (at almost the same level as medicine) and even more so—mentally and spiritually.
Issa-an (一茶庵) is run by the grandson of Soba-Sei, Hidenori Katakura, on the 2F of a building in the trendy yet traditional Motomachi shopping area. In his Motomachi soba shop, he continues to work with the cherished principles of his famous grandfather.
The sign on the street outside Issa-an resembles a small Japanese lamp. When you step into the shop on the second floor of the modern building, you’ll find chic black wooden tables, and in the far right corner of the shop a small tatami mat room. There is also a glassed-in room where you can sometimes see how they make their soba.
The tableware is another attractive point. A wooden case shaped like a gourd and a small lacquered box are set out on each table. They contain seasonings and toothpicks! And if you order cold sake, instead of being served in a bottle, it will be brought to you in an iron kettle. You can enjoy drinking the sake from tiny delicate glasses in the summer time. In the autumn and winter, hot sake is served in a sophisticated ceramic set.
How to order
If the staff waiting on you don’t understand your English (and you have zero confidence in your Japanese!) ask them to show you their Photo Album. They keep it back in the kitchen! You can point to the images of the dishes you are interested in. Another idea: print out this page and bring it with you to show them what you want.
If you are a complete soba beginner or if you are short on time, please order Seiro-tenmori (せいろ天盛り) (1995yen). You can enjoy both soba and tempura at the same time! Or even more simple (soba only), is Seiro (せいろ)(840yen).First, try the soba by itself, then dip your tempura in the soba soup and crunch it with a nice crispy sound. And don’t forget to slurp your soba noodles…it’s good etiquette!
For Sake Lovers
If you love Japanese sake and want to go a little bit inside the quiet world of soba, this is the best way to do it. It is for a couple or small group who want to enjoy a silent but gorgeous time.
The first thing you should do is order sake and tsumami (small dishes perfectly matching the sake). Generally speaking, sake in soba shops is quite sophisticated. Here is an example of what I ordered when I visited Issa-an with my husband:
-Start with cold sake. Hak-kai-san (八海山) might be a nice one to try.
-Japanese-style omelet, tamago-yaki (玉子焼き).
-When you are ready, another cold sake like Kubota (久保田).
-An assortment of Tempura (天ぷら盛り合わせ)
-Two servings of Seiro soba (せいろ２枚).
After you finish your cold soba, they will serve sobayu (そば湯) at the very end of the meal. You pour this hot water (which comes from the soba cooking pot and contains dissolved soba nutrients such as protein, vitamin E, and so on) into your soba cup and mix it together with your remaining soup. It serves to refresh your palette after the meal. In addition, it will strengthen your blood vessels! It is said that people who regularly eat soba can are less likely to have a stroke!
Take a Cooking Class!
Finally, Issa-an also has soba cooking classes for beginners to professionals on a regular basis. If you are interested in taking a class, please contact them before you visit Japan. The owner will welcome you with genuine hospitality.
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Japan is a small island nation, but we have a huge number of surprising things to discover here. Many of these delights can be found when you step off the main street onto small side paths. I really enjoy studying about and researching various aspects of traditional Japanese culture, and then sharing this information with visitors to Japan. I hope you will enjoy it, too! ARTICLE INDEX & PHOTOS: An index of most of my Japan Travel articles can be found at the entry page of my blog, and my photos are shown here. 日本はとても小さな国ですが、大通りから一本小道に入ればたくさんの発見があります。日本人が積み重ねてきた歴史を学びながら、古い建物や庭を訪ね、物語の舞台となった景色を眺めて、皆様といっしょに日本文化の奥深さを探求していきたいと思います。