If you are knowledgable about Japan, you have certainly come across the soba noodles.
Soba is consumed in every part of Japan. A testament to how important soba is to the Japanese people is the fact that they eat “Toshikoshi soba”, literally meaning New Year’s Eve soba, every year. The soba noodles are easily cut compared to other noodles, this tradition symbolizes cutting the ties with negative things of the past year to get a fresh start for the new one.
As a result of the Japanese overwhelming passion for soba, it is not surprising that many regions in Japan claim to produce the best soba as a way to attract tourists. So, let’s have a look at what is important to make good soba noodles!
- Large temperature variations
- Occurrence of fog
- Low humidity
These three conditions just happen to precisely describe the Aso area!
During the summer days, the temperature easily goes above 30 degrees while the nights remain cool around 10 degrees. Furthermore, Aso which is known for its “sea of cloud” phenomenon has plenty of morning mist that protects the soba from frost and keeps a well-balanced humidity throughout the year. Finally, the volcanic landscape and soil of Aso infuse the plentiful groundwater of the area with minerals that nurture healthy and flavorful buckwheat.
So, I won’t say anything about the other areas that claim to be the holy land of soba, but one thing is for certain, Aso ticks all the right boxes needed to whip up some of the best soba noodles!
With that said, let me introduce 4 recommended soba restaurants!
Nr.1 – Waremokou
When speaking of soba in Aso, you can’t ignore the “Soba Kaido”, meaning “Soba Road”. This strip of land, located in Minamioguni, is fairly famous and you can find a wide variety of soba shops here that all have their own personal flair. Right by the entrance to Soba Kaido sits this little restaurant, Waremokou.
The inside of the restaurant captures the atmosphere of rural Japan perfectly. They have a sunken hearth and a fireplace that further enhances the mood by adding the relaxing sound of crackling firewood and the calming fragrance of burning charcoal.
The number one recommendation here is the Akaushi Nanban Soba (1850 yen).
This soba uses the softest part of the Akaushi beef, the rump, and spring onions to give flavor to the home-made dipping sauce.
The noodles are slightly thinner than normal noodles and made by adding two parts of wheat flour to the buckwheat flour, a method known as “Nihachi Soba”.
Waremokou is also very particular about serving the noodles freshly cut and freshly boiled. Since it all is prepared after you place your order, you might have to wait for a bit extra at Waremokou, but this extra time only stimulates your appetite making the already fantastic soba noodles even better!.
Address: 3220ｰ5 Akababa, Minamioguni, Aso District, Kumamoto 869-2401
Opening hours: 10:30 – 17:00
Fixed holidays: None
Nr. 2 – Sobadokoro Kazu
Next on our list is Soba Dokoro Kazu, a private house that has been renovated into a soba restaurant!
This is the inside of Sobadokoro Kazu. It is quite a mysterious feeling because even though it has been renovated to operate as a restaurant, Kazu retains the feeling of a normal home and it feels like you are sitting inside someone’s living room.
The owner’s recommendation is the Kazu Teishoku (1800 yen).
Apart from the soba which is served together with tempura-fried seasonal vegetables. You will also get to enjoy persimmon leaf sushi and dessert!
At Kazu, you can enjoy firm noodles made from 100% buckwheat flour. Dip them slightly in the chilled flavorful dipping sauce for a tasty soba experience.
Here is the charming and kind owner of Sobadokoro Kazu.
Kazu is rather unknown and not many tourists find there way here. But it’s a restaurant that is greatly beloved by locals and as I sat here slurping up my noodles, many of the people who live and work in the area stopped by to enjoy lunch.
If you are in the area and want to experience a very local and slightly different soba experience, then Sobadokoro Kazu is the place!
Address: 6129-8 Ichinomiyamachi Miyaji, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2612
Open hours: 11:00 – 16:00
Fixed holidays: None
Nr. 3 – Umakata Soba-Ya
When thinking of Soba, you often think of tatami mats, sliding doors, and other things representative of the Japanese atmosphere. Umakata is a soba restaurant that offers a slightly different approach.
This is what it looks like inside Umakata. It looks more like a cafe than your ordinary soba restaurant. But this laid back and unique atmosphere is one of the reasons that Umakata is popular. Umakata is most of the time full of families, couples, and other smaller groups who come to enjoy the soba here.
And speaking of soba, here it is! Similar to Sobadokoro Kazu, Umakata’s noodles have a firm body but the dipping sauce is slightly sweeter.
And what makes Umakata even more amazing is its “Umakata set”. By simply adding 350 yen to the price of the noodles, you will get everything in this picture. Rice (of your choice), nimono (boiled vegetables), dobin-mushi (a steam-boiled dish), chawanmushi (a steamed pudding dish), salad, small dishes such as pickled vegetables, dessert, and coffee. The amount of food you get at the price is unbelievable and not surprisingly, I couldn’t finish it all. If you are troubled by the small portions in Japan, then Umakata won’t let you down!
Another nice thing is that every table has its own coffeemaker letting you time your coffee perfectly to enjoy freshly brewed coffee after lunch.
If you had to skip breakfast and feel the need to have a big lunch, don’t hesitate to stop by Umakata Soba-Ya.
Address: 1351ｰ1 Nagakusa, Aso, Kumamoto 869-2231
Open hours: 11:00 – 17:00
Fixed holidays: Friday
Nr. 4 – Kugino-an
For the final soba restaurant of this post, let’s go back to the roots.
Minami Aso hosts many soba restaurants but few are as popular as Kuginoan. Regardless of if it’s weekday or weekend, there are always many customers who find their way to Kugino-an.
The simple wooden interior of the restaurant gives off a calm and relaxing vibe. A distinctive trait is the large windows that let you feel connected with the beautiful nature outside as you enjoy your food.
And here is the smooth-looking beautiful soba! Most soba restaurants in Kumamoto use a slightly sweet dipping sauce but at Kugino-an the sauce is actually quite spicy!
I ordered Tenzaru soba, cold noodles with dipping sauce, tempura-fried shrimp and seasonal vegetables. At Kuginoan they are very particular about their ingredients and even grow much of it themselves. Another nice detail is how you can feel the time of the year through the tempura-fried vegetables that change with the seasons.
This is the most popular dish, Kamo Nanban (1700 yen)!
The duck meat and spring onion that has been drenched in and absorbed the slightly spicy sauce is irresistible!
This is the owner of Kugino-an, I mentioned that he is particular about the ingredients. But that might be an understatement, he is also a passionate farmer who grows buckwheat native to the Kugino area. Every morning he actually grinds the flour used in the noodles by himself to be able to present you with the best soba possible!
When in doubt, go to Kugino-an, a sure pick for anyone who wants to have some high-quality soba noodles combined with carefully produced local ingredients!
Address: 266-2 Kain, Minamiaso, Aso District, Kumamoto 869-1411
Open hours: 11:30 – 16:00
Fixed holidays: Tuesday
Website: http://www.kuginoan.com/ (Only in Japanese)
There we have it, 4 different restaurants that all have their own unique style and use the superb conditions of the Aso environment to produce the Japanese soul food, soba noodles. Of course, this is only a sliver of all the soba restaurants that the Aso area has to offer! Feel free to explore and find your personal favorite!