What I love about Japan is that each prefecture is famous for a specific type of food. Much like “real” sweet tea can only be found in the American South, so it is with soba, ramen, udon, and other Japanese delicacies. For a more detailed list of famous foods based on prefecture, visit Tofugu for more information.
If you’ve been following along, you know that about a month ago, we visited the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, stayed at one of Nagano’s famous Onsen Towns, and if you watch our YouTube channel, know we stopped at the Nagano Winter Olympic Sports Park.
However, before we did any of those awesome things, we had to try soba. And not just any soba, but Shinshu Soba.
What is Shinshu Soba?
Located in mountainous Nagano Prefecture, Shinshu Soba received its namesake from Nagano’s former name, Shinano.
While you can find buckwheat noodles in any Japanese city, the soba noodles that are created in Nagano Prefecture are said to be one of the most delicious soba brands produced in all of Japan.
Because of Nagano’s volcanic soil and highland location, it is the optimal environment for growing buckwheat, and therefore, soba making.
Hot or Cold?
When ordering soba, you can choose either a hot or cold option. While both are delicious, deciding whether soba is better hot or cold is completely up to personal preference. Some prefer eating it in soup form, while others (like myself) like to eat it cold with dipping sauces on the side.
Both should be tried at some point when visiting Japan, and both can be found in Nagano.
Kiriue Kirishita Soba:
After leaving the Olympic Sports Park, we asked our taxi driver for soba recommendations. Like most other people will say, any place in Nagano is a good choice. He did say that Nagano Station had a lot of options, so that’s where we headed.
The third floor of the station is where you’ll find the restaurants, and once we arrived, we watched a soba chef cut up noodles before deciding on Kiriue Kirishita Soba.
There was a bit of a line when we arrived, but we only waited a few minutes before being seated at our table. We were brought the usual warm green tea and hand towel, and then we ordered.
The menu was pretty simple, and had a great soba set that was only ¥1,000 (about 10 USD). I decided to pay a little bit more, and ordered the cold soba set that included shrimp and vegetable tempura.
This set was really delicious, and unlike the hot soba option, the noodles stayed chewy and firm until the very end. Sometimes if you leave them in the soup for too long, the noodles get mushy, and to me that’s just no bueno.
The noodles were topped with nori (seaweed), and came with tsuyu (a standard dipping sauce) and yakumi (condiments like wasabi and radish).
The tempura was perfectly crispy, and didn’t feel too heavy paired with the buckwheat noodles. While this set was a little bit more expensive than other options (¥1,400), it was definitely worth it.
Your Shinshu Soba Experience:
There are SO many soba restaurants to choose from, and so many different soba experiences to be had.
If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to get out and explore Nagano, stick with the restaurants at the Nagano Station where you’ll find delicious and affordable soba.
If you have more time, don’t be afraid to get out Google Maps and look up a soba restaurant nearby. There’s also an information desk at the station with employees that can offer good reviews on where to find the best soba.