Soba (Buckwheat Noodles) at Tabata-ya/田畑屋のそば

Japanese Food

Last evening, my family went to Tabata-ya, a local buckwheat noodle restaurant here in the Shiozawa area of Minami Uonuma city. Reason: They hold a fair for four days in a row, offering all of their dishes at half the regular prices, except drinks, in the noon session for the first two days and in the evening session for the last two days. They call the fair “Naoe Kanetsugu Kansha (Thanks-Giving) Fair”. Probably, the soba-ya (buckwheat noodle restaurant) has made a considerable profit by attracting many tourists from over all Japan, thanks to NHK’s last period drama, Ten Chi Jin (Heaven, Earth, and Man), which featured Naoe Kanetsugu as the main character.

My son, wife, and I ordered four servings of “hegi soba”. Hegi soba is a specialty of the Uonuma region of Niigata prefecture. It contains funori (a type of seaseed) as a bonding agent, and is very sleek and resilient in texture, providing good nodogoshi (“throat-feel”), and greenish in color. Funori is also used to starch fabric. Shiozawa and surrounding areas are famous for their fabric production. Hegi means a wooden, rectangular tray in which to serve soba (buckwheat noodles), such as the one shown below. Another characteristic of hegi soba is that the noodles are made into manageable coils and arranged beautifully in a hegi, as shown below.
私、息子、妻は、へぎそばを四人前頼みました。へぎそばとは、新潟県の魚沼地域の特産品です。つなぎとして布海苔(ふのり)という海草が入っています。ツルツル、シコシコ、腰があり、喉越しが良く、色は緑っぽいです。布海苔は織物に糊付けするのにも使われます。塩沢およびその周辺地域は織物の生産で有名です。へぎとは、下に示すよう、そばを盛り付ける長方形の木製の枠のことです。へぎそばのもうひとつの特徴は、 下に示すよう、そばを食べやすい大きさに巻いて、へぎに美しく並べることです。

My son and I each ordered a plate of tempura, while my wife ordered a plate of vegetable tempura (cheaper than tempura, which includes kisu (a type of fish) and prawn) and my daughter ordered a chahan (fried rice) set.

As I mentioned somewhere on eGullet, there are at least two types of tempura, soba-ya style tempura and tempura-ya style tempura. Soba-ya style tempura has more batter on it, and in some cases, more batter is sprinkled over a piece of tempura while it is being deep-fried, so that it gets more batter on the surface. This step is described as “hana wo sakaseru” (producing flowers).

The prawn was still raw. I’m not sure whether this was intentional or not.

Later, the server brought this to the table. What’s in this black object?

Soba yu, which is simply hot water used to cook buckwheat noodles. It contains rutin, and is said healthy. At a soba-ya, it is common to have some soba yu together with leftover soba dipping sauce after you have had soba.

You pour some soba yu into your bowl of dipping sauce, and drink it.

All my family love hegi soba!

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