Thursday, March 18, 2010
Famous Soba place in Ninohe
While Hiroko was visiting the Nanbu Bijin Sake Brewery (南部美人） in the town of Ninohe in Iwate prefecture, Ono-san from the brewery took her to an out-of-the-way soba place located in the middle of the town.
After parking the car in what looked like someone's backyard, he said, "this way." Seeing nothing that looked like a restaurant, Hiroko followed him along a muddy path through a field over ground that was soggy and slippery from melting snow. "This is it," he said. At that, she looked up and saw someone's house.
The soba place called Maita Koubou Sobae-An (米田工房 そばえ庵） was run by Kayo Yoneda-san. What is special about this Sobae-an is not its location in the middle of a field, but rather Yoneda-san's belief in eating local. She may not know the current "locavore" trend but she follows the old way of life in Japan. Food self-sufficiency was at about 73% in 1965 and is now hovering at around 40% in the last 10 years. To put in different perspective, the US food self-sufficiency rate is around 130%.
Yoneda-san grinds her own soba (buckwheat) flour. She even makes her own soy sauce for soba dipping sauce. To make her soy sauce, she also grows soybeans and wheat! I told her that she was super-woman, and she was modest telling me that she doesn't know anything else. She promotes local cuisine giving lessons on how to make soba. She is a well-respected, well-known figure in the area.
Her soba is made from 100% soba flour, whereas many soba noodles contain some amount of wheat flour. Since soba flour does not contain gluten, some wheat flour helps to bind the dough together. Nihachi Soba, which is 20% wheat and 80% soba flour, is a highly regarded specialty soba noodle. Many of the dried soba noodles sold at supermarkets contain more than 50% wheat flour. (Look at the ingredients listed on the back of package. If the first ingredient is soba flour, then it contains more than 50% soba flour in the noodle.)
Her soba were sliced very thin and long, had a pale soba color, and looked very delicate. Once it is put into the mouth, it has a resilient and firm al dente texture. It was hard to believe that the soba was made only from soba flour. Once she had started, Hiroko found it hard to stop eating and she soon found herself looking at an empty plate.
After eating the soba, Hiroko was lucky enough to join with locals (old and young) for the soba making class given by Yoneda-san.
She casually placed soba flour and cold water together in a large bowl, then mixed and rubbed the mixture together with her hands. While she was talking, the dough began to form. When it became the texture of an ear lobe, it was time to roll the dough.
She placed a handful size of round dough onto a big square cutting board. Rotating the dough as she rolled it out, before you know it, the round dough had become a square the same size as the cutting board.
She then folded the dough carefully and started to slice it very thin. The entire process took only 10 to 15 minutes! Everyone was mesmerized by the way in which she had so casually yet expertly, created her soba noodles.
It was a priceless experience see Yoneda-san's soba making method and eat the resulting delicious noodles. Also it was nice to see local people of engaging with the local cuisine and learning to carry on their tradition to the next generation.
Maita Koubou Sobae-An 24-2 Jumonji Shimotomai Ninohe-shi, Iwate 028-0611
11am to 5pm
Closed on Friday
米田工房そばえ庵 〒028-6100 岩手県二戸市下斗米十文 字24-2