If you have a chance to try something out, go for it. Easy call, of course, when you’re doing it as someone’s guest.
This past week, thanks to the folks at the Matsumoto Tourism Association and Welcome Matsumoto, I had the chance to make and enjoy fresh quality soba – and try a few other local specialties as well – right up the road in Asama Onsen Village.
The Art of Making Soba
Mixing flour and water. Kneading the dough. Rolling it out and cutting it into thin ribbons. The steps of the soba-making process are simple.
This doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Our soba sensei, Yanagisawa-san and Yamazaki-san, have been making soba noodles for four decades. They can craft a couple dozen servings of soba in a matter of minutes, but for us they took it slow, showing us how to do it then patiently, happily helping us get the hang of it.
Until this past week I never imagined how satisfying cutting noodles could be.
So When Do We Eat?
Right down the block from Yamazaki-san’s soba kitchen is the intimate yet comfortable Tsukemono-Kissa restaurant, run by Yamazaki-san until he handed over the reins to his son. While our soba lunch was being prepared we were treated to a sampling of three kinds of sake, all produced here in Nagano Prefecture (and one right here in Matsumoto).
This was followed up by a variety of pickled ‘tsukemono’ vegetables. You’ll find these salty little veggies on tiny plates in eateries all over Japan; I can’t even guess how many times I’ve had them. But the tsukemono we had there were light on the salt – and so heavy on the yum I almost forgot about the soba.
The Main Event
At this point I’m not even sure I should call the soba the main event. The whiole experience was one ongoing party. The soba was served with some great tempura. We were given fresh wasabi to see, feel, and smell before grating it and adding it to our soba tempura. Wasabi is known as a super-spicy condiment, but when it is freshly-grated it has a sweetness to it that – fair warning – will fade if you leave it sitting on your plate for too long.
With us, that never became a problem.
We spent four hours there in Asama Onsen, from the start of our lesson in noodle-making to the end of our satisfying feast. We even had time along the way to check out the hot ‘ashiyu’ foot bath nearby and take a quick stroll around town. Stick around a little longer if you want to enjoy a proper onsen bath, or take in the mountains and the history of this little corner of Matsumoto.
Asama Onsen Village is easy to get to, by bus or bike from downtown. (Get all the latest details here or at the visitor information center in the station or the one near the main entrance to the castle.) And it’s not hard to find a plate or a bowl of soba once you’re there. But if you want the complete soba-making, sake-tasting, wasabi-grating experience, the good folks at Matsumoto Experience would be more than happy to have you along.