Wanko soba is the name of the game and Azumaya restaurant is the place to play. Seated on the floor, I mentally prepared myself to challenge the opponent. She stood above me tall, hair tied back with her weapon at her waist. I sized her up. A woman with a kind smile like that must be hiding something. And so she was: a weapon dangerous enough to cause excruciating pain in the abdominal area. As I moved my shield to initiate the duel she responded with immaculate speed… “Hai! Jyan, jyan” she said, and dropped some soba noodles into my empty bowl.
Wanko soba is one of the three famous noodles of Morioka. It’s an all-you-can-eat challenge that everyone should partake in when visiting this city. The Azumaya soba restaurant is a popular spot in Morioka and highly recommended for enjoying soba noodles, but even more popular for enjoying wanko soba. Soba noodles are buckwheat noodles popular in Japan and the wanko soba challenge is from the Iwate prefecture, but it’s most well-known as one of Morioka’s specialty noodles.
Wanko means “bowl” in the local dialect, but it’s not a full bowl of soba noodles. Each bowl is small and each contains one bite of soba noodles which must be slurped up as fast as the waitress is feeding them to you. It’s like a race between you and your server.
Before the battle began, they brought out small bowls of what I had assumed to be appetizers, but were in fact condiments. “These are to add extra flavor if you need to,” my friend explained. There was sashimi, ground chicken, sesame seeds, pickled veggies, seaweed and more.
Next, the ladies to be our opponents brought out buckets meant for pouring out the extra broth that accumulates in your bowl from the noodles. Then we were given empty bowls with a lid on top. The lid is meant to signify when you are finished, when you have had too much, when you are so stuffed you cannot bear another piece of soba noodle; the lid is your shield against your personal server.
Then, it was time. Our servers were by our side and dropping noodles into our bowls before we could say “Ittadakimasu.” I finished my first bowl of noodles, slurping it up in the traditional fashion and savoring the delicious taste of the broth as I gulped it down, but I hardly had time to enjoy it. My server did not hesitate to plop another bowl of noodles into my dish. Then another. And another. Our servers were not there to pity us or make us feel special, they were there to push us and encourage us to not give up like the gym trainer that I have always avoided.
I had no idea how many bowls of soba I had eaten, but they were starting to pile up quickly. I pushed through the pain, adding condiments when the taste started to get bland and taking quick breathers when my server ran to get more bowls.
Finally, I could not take anymore. I reached for my shield, I mean lid, but I struggled to find it among the pile of bowls so the server filled me up again. I slurped it, then searched for my lid again. She gave me more noodles, I slurped it, and then finally found the lid and threw it on before my opponent had another chance to strike again.
As everyone finished up, the servers gave those who had broken 100 bowls a small wooden plaque as a token of their accomplishments (I hit 97). Then, full of soba noodles and regret, we paid for our meal and shuffled our way outside. While we were not in the restaurant for long, we came out as warriors, stronger than ever. We were wounded physically, but full of pride at defeating a challenge that some are too scared to attempt. How many bowls of soba can you eat?
|Address||1-8-3, Nakanohashidori, Morioka-shi, Iwate, 020-0871|
|Access||[map]1-8-3, Nakanohashidori, Morioka-shi, Iwate, 020-0871[/map]|
|Opening Hours||11:30 - 15:30; 17:00 - 20:00|
|Price Range||1,728 yen - 10,800 yen|