“Hai, jan jan. Hai, don don.”
What is that? Can you answer this question?
If you can, I know you have visited Iwate at least once, right?
This is a famous phrase from the interesting food culture in Iwate, called “Wanko Soba”.
First, let me explain what “soba” is.
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat. We make it into powder, mix it with flour, pour in water and knead it, make it into a thin flat sheet, and cut it into noodles.
As you may know, the most consumed grain in Japan is rice. However, in some areas, the soil is not fertile enough to make rice, but they can produce very good soba.
The Tohoku area is one of those places, especially Iwate prefecture. The soba in Iwate has a deep taste and a very nice aroma, which allows you to enjoy the real taste of soba.
Features of Wanko Soba
Wanko Soba is both the name of the food, as well as the style of eating.
A large amount of soba is prepared and separated into small bowls. Each bowl contains a very small amount of soba, like one sip. The waitress lines them onto the tray and holds about 20 bowls all at once. You are told to wear an apron when you taste Wanko Soba and sit about 5 people to the same table. On the table is your own empty bowl and variety of side dishes such as tuna sashimi, mushroom, chicken freak, grated yam, wasabi, and so on. Pick up your empty bowl, and start Wanko Soba. A waitress comes close to you and throws soba from her bowl into your bowl. Then, you eat it. Once your bowl is emptied, the waitress throws another soba from her bowl again. Then you need to eat. This repeats again and again. Wanko Soba doesn’t have a limit. You can literally eat as much as you can. When you get a bit tired of the taste, you can add the side dishes into your bowl to change its taste so that you can eat more.
If you are full and don’t want anymore, you need to put a cover on your bowl, which is the sign to the waitress that you are satisfied. But be careful, you need to eat everything that is in your bowl to stop her service, otherwise she doesn’t stop. And, if the waitress throws soba into your bowl before you put the cover on, you need to eat it and try to cover your bowl again. Just be careful, she might throw it in before you can cover it. OK, I dare say, she tries her best to throw soba into your bowl before you close it. You need to find the best timing to stop your meal, otherwise you’ll be eating endlessly.
When you manage to cover your bowl, the waitress counts how many bowls of soba you finished. You can get a special prize if you eat more than 100 bowls. 15 bowls are almost 1 portion of a normal bowl of soba.
Do you think that you can eat 100?
Come and try it. I bet you will eat much more than you imagined.