Soba, So Close
October 14, 2016
After exploring Nikko’s temples, hiking trails, and waterways, how about a little lunch? After all, no trip to Nikko would be complete without sampling some local fare, right? Luckily, one of Nikko’s tastiest and cheapest dishes is never too far out of reach.
Buckwheat noodles, or soba, has been a favorite of Japanese people since the introduction of both noodles and the plants from which to make them centuries ago. Seen as a healthy supplement to a mainly rice diet, and easily customizable to local tastes, soba forms the basis of dozens of customs throughout Japan.
Throughout the greater Nikko area, soba restaurants can be found in small, out-of-the-way neighborhoods, rural back streets, town centers, and even the occasional train platform. Many of these restaurants offer a variety of localized soba dishes ranging from hot to cold to everything in between.
Santate Soba Nagahataan
Santate soba Nagahataan (三たてそば長畑庵), in lower Nikko, off Route 70, offers light, thin noodles with an excellent dipping sauce on large platters suitable for two to three people.
Sango-uchi set, 1,400 yen, enough for two people
Add green onion and wasabi paste to taste, and then, dip away! Take some time after your meal to enjoy a walk along the soba fields that surround the restaurant.
Address: 635-1 Nagahata, Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture 321-1108
Website (Japanese): http://www.imasoba.com/
Hour: 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, closed Tuesdays and Fridays
Directions: To access by train, take the Tobu-Nikko line to Myojin Station. It’s about a twenty minute walk from there. By car, take Route121 North to just past Fubasami Station, then turn left onto Route 70.
By contrast, Houtokuan (報徳庵), located just off Route 119, offers a thicker, chewier noodle paired with toppings like nori. They also offer a variety of side dishes, like the excellent tempura shown here.
Tenzaru Soba set, 1,200 yen
The restaurant is located at the top of a lovely pathway leading down to a historic water wheel park and nature walk.
Address: 383-1 Segawa, Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture 321-1263
Hour: 11:00 am to 3:00pm
Directions: To access by train, take the Tobu-Nikko line to Kami-Imaichi Station. It’s about a 20 minute walk along the train line from there. By car, take Route 121 and merge with Route 119.
A highlight of both these shops is the sobayu, brought out to finish the meal. For the uninitiated, sobayu is literally the water in which the soba noodles were boiled. Mild in taste but rich in vitamins and minerals, the water is poured into whatever dipping broth is left over from your meal. The combined broth and water, sobayu, is now ready to be enjoyed.
Joel studied Communication at Northern Arizona University way back in the 90s and has spent the past twenty years trying to figure out what to do next. So far that has included working as a photographer, teacher, writer, editor, game maker, and dog walker. He still doesn't know what's next.