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Soul Food of Fukui
Echizen Soba
February 24th, 2017
by Takeshi Takashima

If you love to have an adventure, why don’t you jump on a train to Fukui?  At first glance, Fukui City might appear to have little to offer tourists, however, you will soon discover why Fukui has been designated “Japan’s happiest prefecture.”  All you need is to bring just one Japanese word with you: “soba.”  Once you arrive at Fukui Station, we recommend you to ask some locals where to find the best soba. You will be surprised to learn that anyone who lives in Fukui will have one or two favorite soba restaurants and even soba schools.  You may be wondering at this point, “What is soba?”

Soba is a traditional Japanese noodle made from buckwheat.  The origin of Fukui soba can be traced back to about 400 years ago.  The Samurai ruler of the area at that time chose buckwheat as the main crop for his farmers to grow since buckwheat grew well even in the rough ground. Around September every year, beautiful white buckwheat flowers bloom in large fields all over Fukui. As the seeds ripen and flowers wither, these fields take on a dark red color, showing that they are ready for harvest.

  When the harvest is ready there are many soba festivals.  It’s clear – Fukui locals love their soba!

A good place to start is at Fukui Station; there is a soba place just around the corner of the west exit of the station.   It is a stand-up soba shop.  Noodles are served in a minute after ordering at this type of “fast food” noodle shops – perfect for the hungry travelers waiting to board their train.  However, this shop doesn’t just serve those passing through Fukui Station; many local company workers, taxi drivers and students spend 10 minutes or so enjoying delicious soba noodles.  If you are a Fukui local, it will be quite hard to pass by this shop without stopping for a bite.

Noodles are usually served hot like the ones at the stand-up soba shop.  However, it might be surprising to see that in Fukui the locals are crazy about their cold noodles, which you won’t have trouble finding at all!  What makes Fukui soba special is the grated daikon (Japanese radish) on top.  Fukui soba fans put it on top of soba noodles, and then pour the sauce on top of it.  Soba tastes really nice with this grated radish, but what makes it even better are dried bonito flakes and chopped green onions.  It is this way of enjoying soba that makes Fukui soba something unique.  However, each soba restaurant serves soba slightly differently, so be adventurous and explore as many of them as you can.  If in doubt, just ask a local for a recommendation.

Many Fukui locals also enjoy making soba at home.  Soba ingredients are very simple; all you need is soba powder, a small amount of wheat flour, and water.  It is worth learning this skill, and you’ll be happy to know about Fukui’s “soba dojo.”  There are many soba dojo, or soba cookery schools where you can actually learn how to make soba under the guidance of soba masters.  One such place is located at the foot of Asuwa Mountain, just a few minutes’ taxi ride from Fukui Station.  This soba dojo was founded in the 1985 by Nakayama Shigenari as the first soba dojo in Japan.  Since then, it has attracted those who want to seek out a unique cultural experience.  It doesn’t matter whether you like your noodles cold or hot, you will surely enjoy the process of making soba noodles. If you want to gain a higher level of soba making skills, you can even participate in soba making competitions.  The most famous of which is held in autumn every year.  The top soba artisans from all over the country gather to compete, showing off their special soba skills.  Fukui really is the heart of soba making in Japan!Why don’t you come to Fukui with “soba” the magical word to open up conversations with Fukui locals?  You will share the enjoyment of their soul food.  Then you will be ready to start your adventure in discovering the real traditional Japanese life that Fukui locals are blessed with.

【抄訳】

日本でちょっと冒険してみたいあなた、電車で行き先を一足伸ばして福井へ来てみませんか。一見、福井には派手な観光地はないかもしれませんが、すぐにも福井が「日本で幸福度1位の都道府県」に選ばれている理由がわかるはずです。それには、日本語の「そば」ということばがカギを握っています。福井駅に着いたらまず出会う地元の人に一押しのそば屋はどこか聞いてみてください。ふくいに住む人ならだれでもお薦めのそば屋の2、3軒、そして「そば道場」についても教えてくれるはずです。この時点ではまだ「そばって何」という方もいらっしゃるでしょうね。

そばは日本の伝統的な麺類です。ふくいのそばの起源は400年前に遡ります。当時の殿様が荒れた土地でも栽培しやすいという理由で農民にそばの栽培を奨励したことが始まりです。9月になると白い小さな花が畑一面を埋め尽くします。収穫の後には各地で「そばまつり」が開かれます。福井の人たちがそばをこよなく愛しているのがおわかりになるでしょう。

手始めとしてまずおすすめは、福井駅西口出入り口のすぐ角にあるお店「今庄そば」(通称えきそば)。立ったまま食べるスタイルのお店です。注目すべきは、そのスピードです。店に入ってどのメニューを注文しても、1分以内にはおいしいそばが、あなたに提供されるでしょう。店には地元のサラリーマンや、学生や、タクシー運転手が次々と訪れ、10分以内には食べ終わって出て行きます。福井の人たちの多くは、福井駅で「今庄そば」のスープの香りを感じると、つい立ち寄ってこのそばを味わいたくなるのです。

麺類と言えば、さきほどの立ち食いそば屋もそうですが温かいそばが主流です。しかし、驚くべきことに福井の人たちは実は冷たいそばが大好きです。福井には「おろしそば」というオリジナルの食べ方があり、最も人気があります。大根をすり下ろした「おろし」を冷たいだし汁に混ぜ、皿に盛られたそばに一気にかけて食べるのです。好みに合わせて、乾燥したかつおを削った「かつおぶし」やネギをトッピングします。このおろしそばこそ福井のそばの象徴です。お店によって味はそれぞれ少しずつ違うので、いろんなお店を開拓してみてください。もし困ったら、地元の人におすすめを尋ねてみるといいでしょう。

福井ではそばを家庭でつくる人も珍しくありません。そばはそば粉と少量の小麦粉と水だけでつくる、極めてシンプルな料理だけに、ちょっとした分量の違いや手際によって味が大きく変わってしまいます。福井には、そば打ちの名人から指導が受けられる「そば道場」がいくつもあります。足羽山のふもとにあるそば道場は、日本初のそば道場として1985年に中山重成さんが創設しました。以来、福井独自の文化を追求する人たちがそば打ちに魅了されてきました。

もし、真剣にそば打ちを極めたいと思うのならば、「競技会」を目指してみるのもいいでしょう。最も有名なのは、毎年秋に福井市で行われる大きな全国大会です。全国18カ所の予選を勝ち抜いた約50人が出場し、その腕前を競います。そば打ちに打ち込む人たちにとって、福井はまさにそばの聖地。

「そば」をキーワードに福井の人たちとの会話を楽しみ、福井のソウルフードであるそばを味わってみませんか。福井では本物の日本の暮らしを体験できる発見の連続となる冒険があなたを待っています。


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