Wordwise 126 A2854

An exhausting meal

  • 2012.10.10

Last month, taking advantage of an invitation to a party, I went down to Morioka in Iwate Prefecture. When my friend found out this was my first visit to Tohoku ever, he insisted that I try as many local specialties as I could in 24 hours. We started off with a bowl of reimen, later followed by Fukuda-pan and a variety of sweet and salty snacks typical of the Morioka area.

The culinary experience culminated with a meal at a famous wanko soba restaurant. Having never heard of wanko soba, I assumed it was just another variety of those thin Japanese noodles. I started having doubts when the waitress gave us a box full of little wooden sticks like toothpicks or matches which, she explained, we were supposed to use to keep count. “Keep count of what?” I thought. The waitress went on talking for a couple more minutes. She was speaking rather fast so I couldn’t quite understand everything she was saying although it was clear she was basically telling us how to eat our noodles. “How hard can it be?” I wondered. The one thing I got was that we weren’t supposed to drink the broth in order to avoid getting full too quickly. And the waitress pointed to a bucket on the table in which the broth ought to be discarded.

At that point, I was quite confused about the whole process so I decided to just watch my friend and imitate him. You know what they say: “When in Rome…”And that’s when the meal really started. Or should I say the race. The waitress brought a tray with 20 little bowls each containing one mouthful of soba. My friend raised his bowl towards the waitress who poured one of the mini portions into it. I watched my friend as he unceremoniously gulped his first bowlful and reached out his bowl for the waitress to refill. 30 seconds later, when I finally decided to start, my friend was already working on his fourth serving. We knocked back our soba for the next half hour at a frantic pace. As soon as I had finished a portion, the waitress was already ready to give me the next one. Everything was going so incredibly fast that I hardly had time to try all the condiments that had been laid on the table, let alone take a sip of my beer.

When we finally decided we had had enough, I felt relieved…and exhausted! It was established – I’m not sure how because I had completely lost track of count despite the little ‘matches’ – that both my friend and I had eaten 77 servings each (about 5 regular portions of soba). Although I enjoyed discovering a new way of eating soba, I found the sheer pace of the meal a little stressful. But if you’ve never had wanko-soba, you definitely ought to try it once.