What kind of foods come to mind when you think about Japanese cuisine? Of course, there’s lots of delicious foods like sushi, tempura, and sukiyaki, but there’s also the star of this article – soba (buckwheat noodles).

〇 What is soba?

Soba is what we call the Japanese noodle dish that is made from the flour ground from the seeds of the buckwheat flower. But soba can be prepared in so many different ways: there’s zarusoba (chilled soba noodles served on flat basket), kakesoba (served hot in a soy sauce based broth), as well as tempura soba (kakesoba with tempura on top), kitsune soba (soba with fried tofu simmered in a sweet broth on top), and many more. You’ll have trouble picking a favorite when you head to the soba shop.

Most Japanese people equate the word “soba” with the soba noodle dishes, but there are other ways to eat soba besides thin noodles. In Iwate Prefecture in the past, people would use make a dough out of soba flour and water and roll it into dumplings called “hatto.” They would also stretch the dough out into flat sheets called “kakke” as well as knead hot water into the dough to make a stretchy dumpling called “sobagaki.” Right before the Edo Period (1603-1868), the thinly-sliced soba noodles called “sobakiri” came into style, and that’s what most people refer to when they say “soba.”


【Tempura Soba】

〇And what is Wanko soba?!

We’ve talked about Wanko Soba before, but they’re one of the three famous noodle dishes of Iwate Prefecture: Reimen, Jajamen, and Wanko soba. Many people call these the Three Great Noodles of Morioka, but I’ll just stick to talking about wanko soba for this article.

First, for a history lesson: Wanko soba was first devised as a way to show off the depth of the Iwate’s hospitality. Now you can get soba noodles anywhere, from supermarkets to convenience stores, but in the past it was made at home for festivals and celebrations. You’d have to ground up the buckwheat seeds in a giant mortar-like “usu” and then take the soba flour and make it into noodles… It would take a great deal of time and effort to make enough for everyone to eat, so we only ate it on special occasions. But we took that soba, something we could only eat very rarely, and served it to hungry guests, offering them as many bowls as they wanted in order to convey our joy at their visit. That’s where the tradition of wanko soba was born.

Wanko refers to the “owan” bowl that the noodles are served in, which is how these particular noodles came by their name. Most of the time you eat chilled soba noodles on a flat basket called a zaru and mix it into a bowl of broth, or you serve it in a big bowl with hot broth. However, these wanko bowls are brought by a server and can only serve a small amount at a time. Each wanko has around one bite of soba noodles, with ten bowls equaling around 1 adult serving of noodles. If you order it wanko soba style, you also get a bunch of condiments and other things to eat your noodles with. You can vary the taste with some sliced green onions or grated daikon.

【A classic session of Wanko Soba】

Wanko Soba at Yabuya (in Futsupari-cho, Hanamaki City)

At this restaurant, you get assigned a sumo rank depending on how many bowls you eat. If you eat over 100 bowls, you’ll get the highest sumo rank of “yokozuna” so please, try it out yourselves when you visit Iwate Prefecture. Every February 11th, we hold a national Wanko Noodle Competition in Iwate Prefecture, so if the timing is right, you should try competing for the prize!





【写真① ざる蕎麦】          【写真② てんぷら蕎麦】


【写真③,④,⑤ わんこそばの様子】わんこそば やぶ屋(花巻市吹張町)