ASAKUSA one city, two tales
Daily noodles, century-old stories

Every business day for more than a hundred years Namiki Yabu Soba (2-11-9 Kaminarimon; lunch from 11am, closed Thursday), in Tokyo’s historical Asakusa district, has handmade its renowned buckwheat noodles. This is a soba noodle that’s extremely close to Tokyoites’ hearts—they found a taste for soba during Edo days when it was brought along the Nakasendo trade route from Nagano prefecture—and for many it’s best eaten as zaru soba, simply served cooling on a bamboo tray with tsuyu dipping sauce, grated daikon radish and wasabi. Namiki was one of the big three soba houses in town: it was established by the son of Kanda Yabu Soba’s owner in 1913, and in turn his son went on to open Ikenohata Yabu Soba in Yushima, on the other side of bustling Ueno. Sadly Ikenohata is no longer, and Kanda was thought lost after a devastating fire razed its traditional wooden house about a decade ago. It took a while, but it was rebuilt. Across Asakusa, on the quiet side of Kokusai-dori avenue, my ‘go-to’ lunch spot is Raishuken (2-26-3 Nishiasakusa; lunch from 12pm, closed Tuesday) for a bowl of its plump and squiggly chijirimen noodles in a rich chicken- and pork-bone shoyu broth. This is a taste not just of old school but of first school, opened in 1950 by chef Ochiai (and now headed by his daughter) its culinary lineage can be traced to Tokyo’s original shoyu ramen restaurant Rairaiken (hence the echo in the name). That opened in the 1910s. These days at Raishuken there’s no fuss, just a big steamy bowl of ramen—and always a welcoming smile from the ladies who run it.
First published 2021, 2023

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