Tohoku (東北) consists of the northeastern portion of Honshu (本州), the largest island of Japan. This traditional region consists of six prefectures – Akita (秋田), Aomori (青森), Fukushima (福島), Iwate (岩手), Miyagi (宮城), and Yamagata (山形). Tourism is a major industry in the Tohoku region. When you visit, do not miss out on these three local noodles which are sure to make your stomach scream “more”!
You can find negi soba in Ouchi-juku (大内宿) in the Fukushima Prefecture of Tohoku. Negi soba is Takato soba (高遠そば) eaten using a long green onion (negi) instead of chopsticks.
But first, what is Takato soba and its origin? Takato soba is a soba dish with grated daikon radish. When Masayuki Hoshina (保科正之), lord of Aizu (会津), returned from Nagano (長野), people in Aizu saw one of his retainers eating soba with a daikon radish. The retainer, who came from Nagano’s Takato clan, explained to the people that it is how people in Takato ate their soba. Soon, the practice spread throughout Aizu and became known as “Takato soba.”
When you enter a restaurant that serves negi soba, you will have to abandon all eating utensils and eat using a vegetable instead. However, this is no ordinary vegetable. It is a long green onion, specially cultivated and grown into a slight “J” shape.
Misawaya (三澤屋), one of the restaurants that serve this kind of noodles, offers a variety of Takato soba to choose from – hot, cold, and some come in sets, too! Over time, the owner of Misawaya came up with the idea of replacing chopsticks with green onion when eating soba since it gives out a nice fragrance and you can chomp down on it after you are done eating your soba.
The best time to go eat negi soba is October or November, which is the season of fresh soba.
This noodle was named “umen (温麺; warm noodles)” in honor of the “warm heart of compassion” that a son devoted to his parent. The story of the noodle came from the Edo (江戸) period. It was about a man named Miuemon Suzuki (鈴木味右衛門) who was living in the castle town of Shiroishi (白石). His father was sick in bed and had to abstain from food for many days. So he went to seek for a dietary cure until he came upon a traveling monk who taught him how to make noodles without using any oil. He immediately made the noodles and fed them to his father who then, recovered. His recovery was likely due to the flour being kneaded in salt water. The noodles leave a smooth taste on the tongue and since it is made without any oil, it is easily digestible.
This story about filial piety reached Katakura Kojuro (片倉小十郎), the feudal lord of Shiroishi Castle that time. He then named the noodle “umen” after the warmth of Miuemon. In other words, the warmth is not in the noodles but rather in the “heart” of an individual.
Umen is one of Shiroishi’s three white products together with Japanese paper and arrowroot starch called “kuzu (葛).” Made with wheat, the thin 9-to-10-centimeter long noodles can be eaten warm or cold. This traditional noodles from Miyagi Prefecture are also available in dried form so you can buy and bring some back home to cook them yourself!
Served with a sunny-side up egg and fukujinzuke (福神漬け), a type of soy pickled vegetable, the thick and straight noodles of Yokote yakisoba are stir fried with cabbage and minced pork and seasoned with sweet sauce.
It is said to have originated in Yokote City (横手市) around 60 years ago when a local yakisoba restaurant owner and a noodle company developed the recipe together as a children’s snack. It then became popular among the locals for its savory taste and affordable price.
A group of local restaurants launched a campaign called “Yokote Yakisoba Norenkai (横手焼きそば暖簾会)” in July 2001 to promote the noodles. Known as one of the three major yakisoba of Japan along with the Fujinomiya (富士宮) and the Joshu-ota (上州太田) yakisoba, it is also a meibutsu (regional cuisine) of Akita. It is even available in raw form so you can cook and enjoy it at home!
So, attention to all the foodies out there! Do not miss the opportunity to try out these special local noodles whenever you visit Tohoku. Taste these noodles at their places of origin!