Soba in Japan (Outside of Tokyo)
I'm traveling to Japan the second week of April and am trying to find out the best place to experience soba outside of Tokyo. I only have a week in Japan and plan on spending 4 days in Tokyo and 3 days in a town or city known for their soba. I looked into Hokkaido, but the flights are very expensive. The other places I'm looking at are Takayama and Togakushi. Hida beef and the Takayama Matsuri is happening so that is a bonus for Takayama. I haven't found or am not looking in the right places on the internet for more information about great soba towns. Does anybody have any recommendations before I book Takayama?
Takayama is not known for soba as far as I know but a short bus ride away is Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO preserved old time village that is kind of known for soba and has an operating old fashioned soba making operation. I think you can take classes as well. Three days that include Takayama and Shirakawa-go would probably be worth looking into.
I know Nagano Prefecture is known for soba but I've never heard of Togakushi. There are a lot of small towns and villages that are known for soba and you can google around to find those but I don't know if you will find 3 days worth of anything to do as a tourist in some of them- Togakushi included.
I had some really good soba in Takyama. It was near the folk museum iirc and after a bit of research I'm pretty sure Kyoya is the place.
Regardless of the soba Takyama was one of my food highlights when I was in Japan and it's worth going for the Hida beef and they have some interesting food stalls at the market by the river and the Izakaya near Takayama train station-Origin, had some really interesting dishes.
For easy access to good soba head to Nagano. Karuizawa has lots of good soba shops and is easy to reach. Matsumoto has many as well, and also great shoyu, but is a bit further from Tokyo. The Aizu region (Fukushima Prefecture, and far from the nuclear mess) is famous for soba. If you are bit more adventurous head to the soba kaido area of Yamagata. The name says it all. If you are really adventurous go up to Horokanai in Hokkaido. I think there are ten soba shops, and this in a city with fewer than 2,000 people. If you go it is best to drive as public transportation is slow and infrequent. But their soba is fantastic.
Awesome! Thank you all for the great information. I wish I only had more time in Japan to hit up all these spots. I'll just have to come back again which I'm sure I'll do. I'm leaning more towards Nagano now since I am limited to 3 days and have heard other great things. Takayama and the hida beef sound amazing, but getting there requires several connections and is almost double the travel time. Thanks again for the tips. This is such a great community and source of information. I'll try to report back on the good soba ya's when I return.
I don't know much about soba and where it's famously made, but I'm surprised to hear about the expensive flights. Right now Skymark is offering flights from Haneda to Sapporo on April 7 for $129 each way, slightly less from Narita. AirDo is at $140. These probably don't show up in most international flight search sites, but you can find them on skyscanner, for example. Asahikawa (if that's more convenient to the soba wizards village) is $170 or so.
Nagano is definitely the place to for soba. There is plenty of information in Japanese, which is not much help to you I suppose, but if you do google searches for the main Shinshū soba varieties and the areas they originated in, you can find quite a bit of information:
Togakushi soba, Togakushi
Tōji soba, Nagawa - Matsumoto http://www.vill-nagawa.jp/food/index....
Kirishita soba, Shinanomachi
Gyoja and Takato soba, Ina City
Accessing those areas will be pretty difficult without a car, so maybe just stick to trying regional varieties in a big centre like Matsumoto or Karuizawa.
I was recently in Nagano doing a tour of sake breweries, and as sake & soba are natural partners it might be fun for you to check out some kura while you are there. Miyasaka Shuzo (makers of Masumi) is the biggest in the area (about an hours train ride from Matsumoto), and they have a great set up for visitors.
Once again, a google search will reap plenty of information, if you are interested.
Don't know if the following may be helpful, but I'll share them just in case.
Firstly, hyperdia.com is very helpful for looking up trains, if it reckons a connection can be made, it's very likely it can - it provides arrival and departure platform numbers too, so it's easy to work out where to go.
Secondly, for internal flights, if your international flight is with on a oneworld airline, you could look at the Yokoso fare.
We booked flights from Fukuoka to Tokyo in November for just 10,000 Yen which was somewhat cheaper than the best regular fares I could find at the time.
Returned from Japan a couple weeks ago and had a great soba experience. The information provided by all of you was helpful in planning my eating journey.
Day 1 Tokyo
Dinner at Hashiguchi
Most memorable bites were the hirame dipped in kimo, the torigai, and the Hokkaido uni(ordered 2x)
Late night ramen at Nagi
Nagi uses dried sardines for the base of the broth. It smells fishy upon entering the shop but the noodles and soup were delicious, not fishy, and had tons of umami.
Day 2 Tokyo
Lunch at Honjin Bou (the older establishment)
- Anago tempura
- yuzu soba had a nice citrus flavor
- seiro soba was cut thinly and had a good al dente texture
- inaki soba which is the not hulled buckwheat was cut thick and had a dark color. It was very flavorful.
- dipping sauce was nicely balanced
Skip to Day 4 in Matsumoto
Lunch at Kobayashi
- Basashi lean and amazing since I love raw beef dishes
- spring mountain vegetable tempura
- ginjou soba made from buckwheat from their farm. The noodles were very fragrant and nutty. This was the best soba I had during the trip.
Dinner at Alps
- Basashi again, but this time it was nice and fatty.
- Set of 3 sobas
mizu 100% buckwheat 1st bite dipped in spring water, 2nd bite dip chopstick in sea salt, 3rd bite dip in the dipping sauce. The progression of taking each bite of the same noodle was quite an amazing experience.
Also had the seiro and can't remember the third type of soba.
We rented a car in Matsumoto. The GPS was a bit challenging to use until I figured out I could just punch in the telephone numbers to my destinations. It made driving comfortable and easy with the english speaking GPS device. It took roughly 2+ hours to drive to Togakushi.
Lunch at Uzuraya which is supposedly one of the oldest soba shops in Japan. The noodles had a nice texture but the flavor was a bit underwhelming since it's 8 to 2 buckwheat to flour. The sauce was on the salty side for me. Overall, it was a great experience as Toshiyuki Tokutake, the soba master, was nice enough to let me in the kitchen and see his operations. You can still see everything from the glass window display.
Dinner at Oshi Ryokan. The ryokan has been in the same family for 200+ years. I made some 100% buckwheat soba with Hidenori Oshi which he served for our kaiseki dinner. Wild mountain vegetable tempura, salmon and scallop sashimi, and tofu were served with our dinner. Oshi san also guided me to the Yamaguchi Soba shop where I was able to purchase some sobakoh to take home. The sobakoh factory was closed on sunday otherwise I would have bought from there.
Drove to see the snow monkeys and went sake and beer tasting at Shiga Kogen in Yudanaka. Also stopped in Obise which is a small town known for their chestnuts and apple jams. For lunch, we ate a little shop serving sobanoh(i think thats what it's called) which is buckwheat batter slow cooked until it thickens into a paste and served in dashi. It was delicious and served with wild mountain vegetable tempura and onigiri.
We drove to Nagano and dropped of the car. We ate dinner at Sukitei for sukiyaki. The meat was good but the meal was underwhelming for the price.
This post is already long winded and has poor grammar so I will stop. The good thing about eating all that buckwheat was it doesn't fill you up as much. Meeting and watching all the masters at work definitely helped with my own soba making techniques. I will go to visit Hokkaido on my next soba trip. If you any of you want more details, just let me know and thanks for responding to my original post.
Jerry. Out of curiosity, where are you from? If the US, there are now several good hand-made soba restaurants. If in Europe perhaps only one, maybe two places that make hand made soba.