Unique Okinawan soba
When it comes to Okinawa soba noodles, I go conservative. Dashi broth flavored with bonito flakes, noodles topped with pork belly, pork ribs and red ginger, sounds just fine to me. These days, noodle joints on the island serve up Okinawa soba with all kinds of flavors such as spicy curry, vegetables soup or with garnishes such as tofu, fried egg, mozuku seaweed, etc. But to me, the basic recipe and topping are always the best.
So, I was a little skeptical of a 110-year-old Okinawan soba recipe with dark-colored broth and diced pork, which is currently being served up at several soba joints.
Toujin soba (Chinese people’s soba) - thought to be the origin of Okinawan soba - has been brought back to life at several soba joints on the island.
“We revived the menu item to make “soba joogoo” (Soba lovers in Okinawa dialect) on the island happy,” said Masashi Nozaki, chairman of the Okinawa Soba Hatten Keishou no Kai (Association for Okinawan Soba’s development and succession).
According to the association’s website, Kankairou, the first soba joint in Okinawa, opened in 1902. Its proprietor was a man from Miyazaki Prefecture. A chef from Qing (then China) was brought in from a restaurant in Osaka to run the kitchen.
“Old documents mention black broth with the flavor of soy sauce and green onion and pork the size of small beans. Following just a few leads like those, we struggled to bring back the taste,” noted Nozaki.
According to him, using soy sauce for broth was a challenge. If soy sauce is poured into broth to the point where its color becomes black, it likely becomes a mere soy sauce. It was difficult to make it taste right for soba.
The dark broth was interesting and mysterious to me. For a die-hard believer of amber-colored bonito dashi broth, it was very hard to imagine how the soy sauce broth would get along with Okinawan soba.
But, after one sip of the black broth, it all made sense to my taste buds.
The broth certainly has the body of soy sauce, but it retained the subtle sweetness of soba broth. The perfect balance added depth to the taste of the noodles. And diced pork added another layer of sweetness. It did not take me long to finish the noodles and broth.
According to Nozaki, Okinawa soba fans have been surprised with or skeptical of the dark colored broth like I was, but they showed a positive response once they tried it.
Toujin soba certainly tastes like Okinawa soba, not that of any other noodles to many soba joogoo.
A record of the historical background of Okinawa soba said Toujin soba was also recognized as Shina soba (Chinese noodle) back in the early days.
Shina soba is commonly associated with ramen in Japan. According to the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum, the name came to commonly refer to ramen in mid-Meiji era (1868-1912). So, the history of Okinawa soba may have crossed paths with ramen, and the black broth might have evolved to Shouyu ramen (soy sauce ramen).
But to me, Toujin soba certainly tasted like none other than Okinawan soba. And, the noodles with black broth tasted so good that it shook my idea of what a classic Okinawa soba is supposed to be.
Toujin Soba is available at the following locations
Hours: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; 463-13 Kadena, Kadena town 904-0203, near Kadena Air Base; (GPS coordinates: N 26.363139, E 127.754836/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR99Q73+7W
Hours: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (11 a.m. – 2p.m. on holidays. Closed Mon.); 3-10-1 Yorimiya, Naha City 902-0064; (GPS coordinates: N 26.207444, E 127.700539/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR96P42+X6
Hours: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Closed Thurs.); 433 Yonabaru, Yonabaru Town 901-1303; (GPS coordinates: N 26.202121, E 127.757315/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR96Q24+RW
Suba café Yuttari Akemodoro
Hours: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Last call at 3 p.m. Closed Tue., second and third Wed.); 2-28-28 Ameku, Naha City 900-0005; (GPS coordinates: N 26.234257, E 127.690246/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR96MMR+P3
Hours: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Closed Sun.); 41 Maaji, Naha City 902-0072; (GPS coordinates: N 26.20527, E 127.716249/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR96P48+4F
Hours: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. (closed on Sun.); 1-1-1 Tsuboya, Naha City 902-0065, (GPS coordinates: N 26.212213, E 127.689142/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR96M6Q+VM
Hours: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Closed Sun., holidays); 3-12-14 Tomari, Naha City 900-0012; (GPS coordinates: N 26.226747, E 127.684533/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR96MGM+MR
Uchinaa ya Yaese
Hours: 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Closed Mon.); 822-2 Kochinda, Yaese Town 901-0401; (GPS coordinates: N 26.146076, E 127.725251/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR94PWG+C4
Hours: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Last call at 2:30 p.m. Closed Tues.); 1806-2 Zaha, Itoman City 901-0314; (GPS coordinates: N 26.145605, E 127.693035/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR94MWV+66
Maasamun ya Men sore
Hours: 10:30 a.m. – Mid. (Closed Tues.); 590-4 Shiohira, Itoman City 901-0302; (GPS coordinates: N 26.143102, E 127.67283/ Open Location Code(OLC): 7QR94MVF+64