Soba is one the main staples of Japanese cuisine, and the noodle of choice for Tokyoites. The number of specialized Soba restaurants in Tokyo is staggering covering the whole range from cheap eateries to fine dining establishments. My eye fell on this rather old shop in Azabu-juban, famous for a type of white Soba called the Sarashina Soba.
Sarashina Horii is a restaurant making noodles dating back from 1789. It was established by Nunoya Tahei, a textile merchant from Shinshu. They have been favoured by the ruling Shoguns during the late Edo period (1603-1868) and by the Imperial household from the Meiji period onwards (1868-1912). All the noodles are made from scratch at the restaurant.
This restaurant is located in one of the most foreign-friendly areas in Tokyo and, if you look foreign, they give you immediately an English menu full of photos on arrival. Ordering couldn’t be easier. However, information is lacking on what it actually all means.
From the street-side, this place stands out through its green shop front. Located on the ground floor of an atrocious apartment building, you immediately realize that this is no longer the original building. However, the plants in front give it a classic look. This type of greenery in front of the shop is an often recurring feature of a bit older restaurants in Tokyo. I wonder though why such a large glass cabinet is necessary to display the dishes on offer.
The green front of the shop
The first thing that struck me when I entered this shop was the working class atmosphere hanging in this place. I did not expect that in this more posh area of Tokyo. At the front they have regular tables and at the back is a tatami area, which combines western and Japanese style interior. They have tried to integrate some shoji style light system (as the paper sliding doors, but only just 2 layers near the ceiling) to amplify the Japanese style. In general the inside of the store gives a disorganized feeling, which I think adds to its character. The customers were mainly Japanese (a lot of older people alone), but I also spotted one foreign couple.
The types of noodles at this place:
- Sarashina Soba: this is the famous item of this restaurant with a long history. This soba is pure white as it uses only the core of the buckwheat seed. It is slightly sweet and apparently easy on the throat when swallowing (the traditional way of eating noodles in Japan is without chewing just gulping it down).
- Mori Soba: Noodles coming from a certain crop from Ibaraki. The whole buckwheat seed is used so the soba is darker in color.
- Futouchi Soba: thick noodles that are more popular in the countryside.
- Kisetsu no Kawari Soba: this restaurant has a long list of seasonal soba, using ingredients in season such as citrus junos (yuzu), cherry (sakura) and many more (see list at the bottom of this article).
All of these noodles are typically served cold, and you will dip them in a sauce when eating. Ordering is not done through a pre-defined specific set, but you can choose one of the types of the 4 noodles above, and then one type of tempura (4 types are available), this combination will make up your meal, costing you a little bit under JPY 2000.
Next to the cold noodles, they are also serving a whole range of hot soba noodles, served in a hot bonito broth seasoned with soy sauce. I warmly recommend these on cold days.
Ten-nanban hot noodles: Soba with one large prawn and welsh onion.
I recommend that next to your order, you also get one side-dish, as the portion size of the noodles is not that large. They are serving things from egg custard, broiled chicken, buckwheat sushi and tofu.
Reference: Seasonal soba (list from June 2017, website in Japanese)
- 4-8 January: Sakura shrimp (桜海老切)
- 9-31 January: Yuzu (柚子切)
- 1-28 February: Spring chrysanthemum (春菊切)
- 1-3 March: Three colors (三色そば)
- 4-14 March: Fuki flower (ふきのとう切)
- 16 March-10 April: Sakura (桜切)
- 11-30 April: Bud of the Japanese pepper tree (木の芽切)
- 1-7 May: Teat (茶そば)
- 11-23 May: Wormwood (よもぎ切そば)
- 24 May – 5 June: Safflower (紅花切そば)
- 6-20 June: Knotweed (蓼切)
- 21-30 June: Tomato (トマトつなぎ)
- 1-7 July: Bamboo grass (笹切)
- 8-31 July: Green dried seaweed (青海苔切)
- 1-31 August: Shiso (しそ切)
- 1-21 September: Green yuzu (青柚子切)
- 22 September – 9 October: Chrysanthemum (菊切)
- 10-31 October: Chinese wolfberry (くこ切)
- 1-21 November: Cape jasmine (くちなし切)
- 22-30 November: Japanese persimmon leaf (柿の葉切)
- 1-30 December: Yuzu (柚子切)
- 22 December: Pumpkin (かぼちゃ切)
3-11-4 Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
(they also have a branch in Tachikawa)
Azabu-juban Station – 7 minutes walk from exit 4 (Namboku Line), 5 minutes walk from exit 7 (Toei Oedo Line)
Roppongi Station – 10 minutes walk (Hibiya Line, Toei Oedo Line, )
Opening hours: 11:30-20:30
Budget: plain noodles are under JPY 1000, but I highly recommend a combination with tempura, and an additional side dish which means JPY 2500-3000 (without drinks). They do not have a special lunch/dinner menu.
Why visit? Soba noodles with a history that are really tasty.
Name in Japanese: 更科堀井