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In a state of hibernation. My backlog has long become unsustainable. Will probably tweet more and write less full-length stuff.

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Wednesday
Oct142009

Ukiya Soba - 有喜屋

For our next lunch, we went to Ukiya Soba. Ukiya is a small mini-chain, with 9 locations (we went to this one on Teramachi Street; the website has no English, but it's easy to find). The Teramachi shop is tiny, with 4 tables and about 12 seats in total. Ukiya specializes in soba, a Japanese buckwheat noodle which can be served hot with soup or cold with dipping sauce. They are known to have some of the best in Japan.

Soba is a bit of a "checklist" item for me when going to Japan, because it is just so much better there than back home. Soba is a highly respected item, and though you can find many fast food versions of it, there are also many family-run soba joints that have passed on their secrets from generation to generation. To give you an idea, Ukiya has been in operation since 1929, which is actually quite young for a famous soba house - another famous place in Kyoto, Owariya, has been around for 540 years. In the US, you can pretty much only find the dried, pre-made, packaged wholesale version of these noodles; I don't know of a restaurant here that actually makes soba fresh. Ukiya makes it fresh every morning, and the difference is obvious. Check out Kyoto Foodie for some cool pics of the soba-making process (side note - KF highly recommends the ukiten soba, but as a non-Japanese, my hate of natto stops me from ordering it).

 

TENZARU COMBO - cold soba with dipping sauce, tempura, rice with pickled veggies, assorted pickles and tofu - ¥1,680Ukiya offers a bunch of different lunch sets. I opted for the tenzaru soba, a common pairing of cold soba with dipping sauce and a serving of tempura. The tempura of course wasn't quite as good as Yoshikawa from the night before, but the noodles were just wonderful. They're thin, feathery, and light, but still have a substantial, slight chew to them. I love cold soba because it so well highlights the "al dente-ness" in the noodle texture. It's a night and day difference from packaged soba, and I think fairly analogous to the difference between a freshly-made pasta and some Kraft macaroni.

 

OYAKO-DON - ¥1,000Another bonus of eating at a good soba house is that, for reasons completely unknown to me, they also tend to specialize in oyako don, a humble dish of rice topped with chicken and eggs. This is one of my dad's favorite things. I prefer katsu-don, but I will never turn down a smooth, almost creamy oyako-don like the one pictured. The key is the slight runniness of the eggs mixing with the (dark meat) chicken and the hot rice.

Either is enough for a quick lunch, but of course we had a bit of everything (for the 4 of us, we ended up with 4 sets of noodles and just 1 oyako don to try). If you're in Kyoto, definitely check out one of the Ukiya locations for lunch. You'll probably run into mostly solo diners stopping for a quick lunch break. But really, if you go anywhere in Japan, there should be a serviceable soba shop somewhere nearby. Any decent soba shop will be a vast improvement compared to what's served in the US.

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Reader Comments (7)

re: oyako-don, I also normally prefer katsudon but I really like the oyako-don served at Sumika in Los Altos. It's hands down the best one I've had in the Bay Area - also better than ones I've had in Japan. So good that we go almost every Saturday for lunch.
Their skewers and grilled items are also top notch for the Bay Area.
Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 12:33AM | Unregistered CommenterG
Thanks for the tip G. I'm not gonna lie, I'm not one to drive distances for oyako-don, but I'll definitely check it out if I'm in the area.

And I'm sure my dad read that...
Friday, October 23, 2009 at 12:04AM | Registered CommenterArthur Che
Hello Authur, Thanks much for the shout out and glad to hear that you enjoyed our recommendation. I think you should give the natto on soba a try at least once. I think you will be surprised, it doesn't stink at all! While reading your post, I realized that I have probably never had anything but that dish at Ukiya! Next time I go there I am going to order something new.
Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 7:04AM | Unregistered CommenterMichael [OpenKyoto]
I dont know about you arthur...but i sure feel hungry with these pictures :)
Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 7:39AM | Unregistered CommenterErgo Baby Carrier
These pictures are surely going to spoil my diet plans.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 9:31AM | Unregistered CommenterCheerleadeing Trophies
The Japanese surely show great respect when eating their meals and this is sure something that touches the heart after all we work hard to earn money for it.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 1:06AM | Unregistered CommenterBeco Baby Carrier
You are right Arthur. There is a very big difference between packaged soba and the freshly made ones. Here in our place, there is a medium-sized restaurant that serves soba among others. The owners covered the soba making area with glass so everyone dining in the restaurant gets a good view of the soba preparation. At least we don't get bored while waiting for our orders.

Jane Darwin
<a href="http://makemysushi.com/">Sushi</a>
Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 8:00AM | Unregistered CommenterJane Darwin

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