[Travelogue] The Okinawa Escapade – Soba… Comfort Food in a Bowl


Now if you’re expecting the thin green cha-soba, you’ll be in for a surprise. Okinawa Soba is very different from the thin buckwheat type that’s served in most Japanese restaurants all around the world. It is instead, a thick white noodle, almost resembling udon except for its flatter and thinner surface.

Shuri Soba 首里そば

img_0487After visiting the Shuri Castle, lunch at Shuri Soba 首里そば was a no brainer. We read about this popular soba restaurant before coming to Okinawa, and honestly, as famous as the castle is, it was secondary to dining here! Anyhow, as touted, there was a line when we arrived at 1.40pm. It was a hot day but everyone persevered and waited patiently outside the quaint wooden house.img_8814The front porch is lined with pretty summer flowers and little garden ornaments. The feeling’s like visiting a friend’s home for lunch except this friend’s kept you waiting behind a shut door 😦 Each time those doors slide open and the restaurant staff appears, we prayed hard it was to summon the next customer and not to announce that they are closed! Yes, at Shuri Soba, limited amounts of fresh noodles are made each day. The restaurant operates for a short 2 hours daily and calls it a day when the soba runs out. img_8816The main dining area as expected, was in fact converted from a former residence. The different rooms open up into tatami dining space while the main hall packed in tables, benches and bar counters… pretty much whatever they could fit in. It was still very comfortable despite the furniture mashup. In fact, it felt rather quirky and interesting! img_8842Like any Asian home, you’ll have to remove your shoes before entering. Its definitely no frills, fuss nor fancy!img_0493By the time we were seated, about 20 minutes later, there wasn’t much need for the menu as only the standard portion soba was available. They arrived fairly quickly in piping hot pork broth, topped with fish cake, chopped scallion, slices of stewed pork belly and shredded fresh ginger. The flattish noodles were al dente with a slight chew. The pork belly was sweet and tender, tearing easily under the grip of the chopsticks. The light, clear and sweet broth is my favorite part of the dish. So light yet so flavorful; and that teeny bunch of shredded ginger added a wonderful aroma and punch to the dish. I can totally have this again, and I imagine especially on cold wintry days!

Waiting in line made welcoming by a pretty porch and garden ornaments all over.

If you’re lucky enough to snag one of the six parking lots in front of the restaurant. Otherwise, keep driving and there’s an open space parking area that charges 200JPY for 60mins just round the bend.

The small portion at 500JPY was substantial. These thin flat noodles make a hearty meal!
Shuri Soba 首里そば@ 1-7 Shuriakatacho, Naha 903-0813, Okinawa Prefecture

Kishimoto Shokudo きしもと食堂

Our second soba experience, we went after visiting the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is a must-see, by the way, if just for the awesome whale sharks! Anyway, in the area of Motobu where the aquarium is located, you will find the legendary “Soba Road” where countless little and not so little, famous and not so famous soba restaurants are scattered. img_0499We picked the renowned Kishimoto Shokudo きしもと食堂 upon hearing about their ‘secret ingredient’! It seems Kishimoto’s noodles are cooked with water soaked in tree ash. The restaurant was full when we arrived. After around 20 minutes, we were inside the doors and ordering through their ticket vending machine. Hold on to your tickets and someone will come for them shortly and show you your seats the same time.img_0506The large, airy dining hall was filled with hungry customers, slurping in that hot pork rib soup Kishimoto is known for. img_0507Our sobas arrived and we tucked in excitedly. I have no idea what to look out for… I mean, what does tree ash taste like?! I was expecting a little smokiness but it tasted pretty regular. Again, the soup was wonderful. A little darker in color and packed with flavor. The pork slices were not chopstick tender but still very tasty.

This time, I added a few drops of kōrēgūsu (the round bottle with a spout in the foreground) in my soba. This chili pepper infused awamori rice liquor gives the soup a little kick!

It may be a full house but one calm, patient chef does the job!

Handmade noodles cooked with water soaked in tree ash.

The legendary Soba Street enroute to the Churaumi Aquarium.
Kishimoto Shokudo Yaedake branch きしもと食堂八重岳 @ 350-1 Inoha, Motobu, Kunigami district, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0228

Soba is undeniably the comfort food of Okinawa. You can find it in most restaurants and instant packs are also readily available at supermarkets. For me, its the delicious broth that takes hours to prepare… that broth and I could become very good friends!

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