Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Namiki Yabu Soba, Asakusa (並木藪そば)

I confess to some confusion as to how we ended up at this place, but it was sure a traditional way to begin the New year evening. When someone says Monnaka is 'downtown', I always say "It's half downtown, and half suburban. If you want to see downtown, go to Asakusa." Well, we went downtown to Asakusa, to do the traditional eating of the soba, see what else was going on, maybe wait in line at Sensoji for the new year.

Of course, this being New Year's, we had to indulge in that other great Japanese tradition - waiting in line for perfectly normal things because they're famous. In this case it was pretty good - less than an hour! I had dressed for the occasion, with warm socks, thick gloves, a wooly hat, etc., so it didn't matter so much. And with more than one person you can take turns waiting in line, which it seemed everyone was doing.

Inside is super-渋い - half tatami, half tables, little old women in white uniforms running everywhere, faint smell of kerosene, everything a bit yellow from age. Larger groups had to wait longer to get one of the big tables all to themselves, but then it's a very festive and familial atmosphere.

Your humble correspondent looks exceedingly festive, ね?

One can't adequately celebrate soba without sake, so we ordered up an atsu and a hiya. They came with these little balls of miso, semi-dried from sitting out for a while. I found them delicious - sort of sweet, dark miso (my preference in any case) mixed with further sweeteners to smooth it, and also some sesame. Goes well with sake, which would be the point of serving it...

The tray is a nice touch, don't you think? Really adds to the feeling of downtown-ness due to its woody-but-worn atmosphere.

Strangely, we had to wait quite a while for our food. This isn't a bad thing, since we had resolved to relax and make the poor people waiting out in the cold...wait a while longer. But Yabu isn't really geared to extravagant dinners. Some soba places will have complete menus and lots of interesting things to do while you build up to the main and noodly course (I'd like to try Honmura An for dinner, but I don't work near there any more .). At Yabu, it's really all about the noodles - hot or cold, with or without tempura or duck. There's a little more, but it's all about the classics, and nothing extraneous. The guy next to us (the table-sharing does little to promote leisurely contemplation of your noodle) had a kamo pot, then a mori plate, then a kake plate. Three separate orders of soba - determined to maximize the return on his waiting-time investment, as well as extending his life significantly.

I found the treatment idiosyncratic. Even the ten-mori that we ordered (above) were odd since the ten was only shrimp (on the one lonely shishito that you see pictured). I guess the shrimp are the best part, so it should be nice to have more of them, just like it's winter and cold so it should be nice to have warm tsuyu, but it was funny. The noodles themselves were certainly a cut above the day before but due to their softness and very mild flavor still didn't get me fired up the way I've been when I was, for instance, driving in the mountains of Nagano and stopped at a random place.

If you have visiting company and go to Asakusa, I don't think you'll find a more downtown place to take them than this. Anyway, now you know what you're getting into if you decide to go.


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