Just off Route 25, some four kilometers from the Iga City based Ninja House and museum, and the stunning Iga Ueno Castle, in what seems like the middle of nowhere is a small, simple, black, wooden building. This is very possibly one of Mie Prefectures’ best kept secrets. Better kept than those of the black clad ninja!
The first indication that this restaurant is far from ordinary would be by viewing the carpark. On the day I visited Soba Matsuo, there were two Lexus (what is the plural of Lexus? Lexeses?) an Audi, a BMW, a Benz, Honda and two Toyotas silently waiting for their owners like loyal samurai waiting for their lord.
Soba Matsuo is the name of this wonderful restaurant that serves a variety of hot and cold hand made soba, or buckwheat noodles. Only locally grown soba wheat and ingredients are used at this out of the way restaurant. Being hand made, you’ll notice small inconsistencies in the thickness of the slightly chewy brown-gray noodles.
Upon entering you’ll soon notice the soft aroma of freshly prepared soba noodles, a gentle fragrance soba fanciers look forward to in fine soba restaurants. This too is proof of quality!
The relaxing interior features a dark tiled floor, which enhances the light grained wooden fittings and high wood ceilings with exposed beams. The sheen on the sturdy wooden tables gently reflects the overhead light from small designer studio spots.
The second indication that Soba Matsuo is out of the ordinary, is the bottle keep rack. Japanese bars and popular establishments often have these bottle keep systems, whereby customers write their names on tags or on the unfinished bottles of sake or whiskey to enjoy on their return to the venue. There must have been at least 60 bottles waiting for their owners next visit, proof that Soba Matsuo is indeed a popular spot amongst the locals.
While I had Zaru Soba, cold noodles dipped into a in a rich dark, watery soup, my partner ordered soba noodles served in a hot soup, rather like ramen noodles, and we shared another of Soba Matsuo’s specialties, tempura. Light crisp batter over large juicy shrimp, eggplant and pumpkin. There was even some soba tempura, fried crunchy strands of soba noodles in the golden batter, brilliant!
It’s the food and the friendly service that cements the notion that Soba Matsuo IS something out of the ordinary, something out of the way and off the beaten track, but worth beating a track to!
It’s a best kept secret even the ninja of Iga Ueno would be proud to keep.
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Chris Glenn is an Australian born radio DJ, TV presenter, helicopter pilot, and advertising copywriter. A follower of samurai culture , he is a member of the Japan Armor and Weapons Research and Preservation Society, has black-belt in Kendo, 2nd black-belt in Chanbara sword fighting disciplines, and currently studies Shinkage and Enmei Ryu techniques. A long term resident of Japan, he is extremely passionate about preserving and promoting Japanese history and culture.