Toujin Soba: Tasting how this Okinawan noodles all started

Toujin Soba: Tasting how this Okinawan noodles all started

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

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

GPS Coordinates: N 26.36333, E 127.75485 (near Kadena Air Base)
Hours: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. or till food sold out

Mingei Shokudo
GPS Coordinates: N 26.20213, E 127.75730
Hours: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (closed on Thu)

Uchinaa ya
GPS Coordinates: N 26.22674, E 127.68455
Hours: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (closed on Sun and holidays)
Uchinaa ya Yaese ten
GPS Coordinates: N 26.14619, E 127.72547
Hours: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. (closed on Mon)
Uchinaa ya Nanjo-shi ten
GPS Coordinates: N 26.15463, E 127.78451
Hours: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (closed on Mon)

Okinawa Soba Kintaro
GPS Coordinates: N 26.14893, E 127.75532
Hours: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or till food sold out (closed on Wed)

Izumi Soba
GPS Coordinates: N 26.64330, E 127.93985
Hours: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Closed on Sun and holidays)

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