Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Cold noodle, Morioka Reimen
Before I was to leave Nanbu Bijin Brewery (南部美人）, Kosuke Kuji, the 5th generation brewer, took me to eat the most famous noodle dish in Iwate prefecture.
Iwate is famous for Wanko Soba, when one finishes a small serving bowl of soba, a staff member will fill the bowl with fresh soba noodles. The staff will keep filling the bowl as long as you eat. It is more game than eating, but this is an unique soba eating experience.
But Kuji-san didn't take me to a Wanko Soba place. He took me to a restaurant specializing in Morioka style cold noodles. Morioka Reimen as it is known, is the answer to all-season lovers of hiyashi chuka, which is the quintessential summer cold noodle dish only available during the summer months.
The restaurant is Pyon-Pyon-Sha （ぴょんぴょん舎）, a Korean fusion or Yakiniku restaurant in a very modern building. Each table has a grilling station similar to that of Korean restaurants in NYC. When Kuji-san was parking the car in the restaurant's lot, I noticed a number license plates of cars parked there from outside of Morioka and Iwate prefecture, a clear indication of drawing power of this famous place.
Morioka Reimen is similar to the North Korean cold noodle dish Naengmyeon, except that the noodles are made from potato starch and flour instead of kuzu or buckwheat flour. The noodles are nestled in a cold beef broth with toppings like slices of beef, hard boiled egg, raw vegetables, and kimchi, and customers can add as much kimchi as they'd like to spice up the Reimen.
The Morioka Reimen style of cold noodle was created by a Korean immigrant named Aoki-san from Hamhung, North Korea. Nostalgic for the spicy cold noodle dish that he grew up eating, he created a cold noodle dish that he originally called Pyongyang Reimen which as it grew more famous became known by its Japanese place of origin as Morioka Reimen. It took long time for locals to embrace it since Japanese people weren't used to eating spicy kimchi. The name "Pyongyang" didn't attract many customers either. However, working hard and not compromising his taste and style, he built up fan base for his noodles. In 1986, at the Japan Noodle Summit, the current owner of Pyon-Pyon-Sha renamed the Pyongyang Reimen as Morioka Reimen, and introduced it as Morioka's specialty noodle. And, as they say, the rest is history.
When a server brought the Morioka Reimen, Kuji-san advised me to sip the cold beef soup. It has a light beige color and has a delightfully sweet, rich flavor that makes you just want to finish the entire bowl as a first course. After sipping the soup, we ate a few strands of noodle. It was a chewy glass glass noodle that was a great compliment to the soup. After a few slurps, we started to add more kimchi turning the soup bright red. It was so addictive, we couldn't stop eating until the red soup disappeared leaving only a white bowl.
Now, many Japanese enjoy eating the dish that was brought by a humble immigrant, who beat the odds of becoming successful in Japan. It was great dish and it was surely a great success story.