By Shizuka Wakashita
What do you drink when you go to a soba place? Beer? Sake? Shochu?
I thought sake but I was wrong.
I was converted into a sake lover about three years ago. Ever since then I almost always order sake when I go out for Japanese food, except for the occasions when I am with new faces and everyone yells freely, "Toriaezu beer de," (let's kick it off with some beer) and I don't feel like explaining why I like sake and all that.
One day in January, I had a new year party with a group of people that I work with. We went to Sarashina Horii, a traditional soba shop in Azabujuban, Tokyo. It's a cozy soba restaurant with over 200 years of history, where you can enjoy housemade soba.
They have a nice selection of local sakes and I was automatically going to order a glass. Right when I was about to order, the project leader ordered sobayuwari, which is shochu with sobayu (hot soba water), and told me how much he loved it. He said that the previous time he came he ordered so much of it that they ran out of the sobayu and told him they couldn't make the drink anymore.
If it's that good I want to try, I thought.
The sobayuwari was indeed, so good. So good that I had to go back again this month.
The drink was so creamy and smooth that it was almost like silky cream soup. It is nicely warmed and great for a cold day in winter like now. Yes, we are having a painfully cold winter this year in Japan.
I have to confess that I came to respect my project leader more because of this.
Sobayu is a traditional way for soba shops in Japan to reuse the water they use to boil their soba. At the end of your meal of zaru soba (cold soba), they usually bring out a container of the hot water, which you pour into the soup base for a warm, post-meal drink. The buckwheat from the boiled soba is supposed to be very good for you.
Sarashina Horii has been serving this drink of shochu and sobayu for about 20 years now. When making handmade soba, there are some bits of soba dough left that are usually thrown away. They wanted to come up with a way to utilize those bits and thought of making creamy sobayu to mix with shochu. The shochu they use is one distilled with soba called Haku un kyou by Fusanotsuyu.
Sarashina Horii offers many different kinds of soba and it's hard to pick which one. I always order the kisetsu no kawari soba (seasonal soba), which they change every month. January was sakura ebi (small sakura shrimp) and February is shungiku (garland chrysanthemum).
It has a hint of aroma of the special seasonal ingredient and the color is really pretty.
Of course, the standard menu is always good as well. And don't forget to order atsuyaki tamago (thick omelet) and kakiage tempura (tempura mixed with vegetables).
With kakiage tempura, make sure to eat every bit! It's perfectly fine to flip the ami (wire netting) on the plate to collect the small bits into a bowl. It's worth the effort.
There are three soba places with the "Sarashina" name in Azabujuban. They should all be good but I think you would be missing out if you don't have this sobayuwari at Sarashina Horii.
*Shizuka Wakashita is based in Tokyo. She enjoys sake, sweets, and healthy Japanese cooking.