Soba Off the Beaten Path – Part 3: Watanabe (わたなべ)

Out of all the all the soba places in Matsumoto I’ve been to so far, Watanabe is my favorite. The shop is run by an older lady that must be around 80 years old. Everything is handmade, from the thinly cut soba noodles to the pickles and other mini side dishes that come along with the meal, to the woodcuts on which the menu is written.

You’ll find Watanabe’s shop in a quaint community called Inekoki, which is on the road to Norikura and Kamikochi from Shin-Shimashima. It is an inconspicuous building right as you go around a corner in Inekoki, so if you’re going here by car, it can be easy to drive right past.

Watanabe's exterior

Watanabe’s exterior

There is no paper menu and all items are posted on cut pieces of wood. The dishes served here include chilled soba served on a basket (morisoba), hot soba with grated Japanese yam (yamakake), and soba with raw egg (tsukimi soba). If you want a taste of old, country-style Japanese cooking, try the sobagaki, which is a kind of soba gruel made by stirring buckwheat flour with hot water until forms a thick paste.

Inside, menu is posted on cut pieces of wood!

Inside, menu is posted on cut pieces of wood!

Below is the chilled soba served in a basket, the simplest way to enjoy the subtle flavors of the buckwheat noodles. It comes with a dipping broth for dipping the noodles (which you can later dilute with the thick water from boiling soba and drink like soup). You can get a regular portion for only ¥450 and a larger one for ¥550. The regular portion is smaller compared to other soba shops, so if you have a big appetite, get the bigger one.

Chilled soba on a basket

Chilled soba on a basket

I loved Watanabe’s hot soba noodles. I got the yamakake soba and the grated yam covers the noodles in a deliciously gooey texture as you eat. My favorite part, though, was the broth. It’s not too strong or salt and you can tell it’s homemade and cooked with care.

Hot soba with grated Japanese yam

Hot soba with grated Japanese yam

For something really unique, get the sobagaki. This is an old-fashioned dish that reminds me of a smooth, buckwheat flavored oatmeal. The fun part is that shop lady brings it out right in the pot it was cooked in! You eat it by scooping out portions with a spoon and dipping it in soy sauce garnished with green onions.

Sobagaki served right the pot

Sobagaki served right the pot

Also, all orders come with a tasty side dish or two, usually something made with seasonal vegetables such as pickles.

Different kinds of homemade pickles and another mini side dish

Different kinds of homemade pickles and another mini side dish

Delicious salted cucumber and myoga that we got served in summer

Delicious salted cucumber and myoga that we got served in summer

The inside of the shop is cozy and decorated with a collection of woodcrafts. The soba shop is directly connected to the shop owners home and if you need to use the restroom, you’ll have to go through the sliding doors and through the living room!

Nice and sunny seats

Nice and sunny seats

Hours are 11:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m. There are no particular closing days.

To get to Watanabe, you can use an (unfortunately) infrequent bus from Hata Station or Shin-Shimashima Station (the Nagawa Line) to the Inekoki Nakamachi bus stop or, of course, by car/taxi.

You can see the bus schedule in Japanese here. Basically, if you are shooting for lunch, you can take the first bus at 9:55 a.m. from Hata Station/10:02 from Shin-Shimashima Station, or the later bus that departs Hata Station at 13:17 or Shin-Shimashima Station at 13:24. (The earlier bus will get you to Inekoki before the shop opens though).

By car, just follow the road into the mountains toward Norikura/Kamikochi (map).

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