Italian-style Japanese? Or Japanese-style Italian? We just couldn’t decide.
Our Japanese-language reporter Mr. Sato recently made a trip to the northern city of Hachinohe in Aomori, which, he learned, is the prefecture with the most soba restaurants in all of Japan. With locally produced brands like Hashikami Wase soba and tons of local dishes that use the noodle, soba has been considered a prefectural food for a long time, which explains why it’s such a popular menu item.
Of course, Mr. Sato, one of our resident foodies, made sure to eat some soba while he was in Aomori. In fact, while exploring Tatehana Harbor, he happened to find a very unexpected soba dish: Italian Soba! Japanese buckwheat noodles with Italian flavors…would that even be good?
Italian Soba (and Udon) was offered at a fish store near Tatehana Harbor called Hama no Supermarket Gyoko Store (“Beach Supermarket Harbor Store”), but though it calls itself a supermarket, the place mainly sells soba and udon omiyage, or food souvenirs.
They also have a little kitchen that sells soba and udon dishes, and that’s where Mr. Sato found the Italian Soba hidden among 26 other kinds of soba and udon dishes.
The menu had several peculiarities. For example, the picture of the “Kids’ Soba/Udon” showed an American flag stuck into the egg, which was mysterious, and the 27th item was simply a clipart picture with the words “Searching for a New Dish”.
The most popular dish was No. 10, the Vegetable Tempura Soba/Udon, which looked as delicious in its simplicity as everything else on the menu. But what caught Mr. Sato’s eye was most certainly No. 6: Italian (Style) Soba/Udon. Not only did this item on the menu have nice flashy red, white, and green text over a green box, but it was aggressively advertised on a separate poster in front of the store.
▼ “(Tomato and Garlic) Italian (Style) Soba/Udon for the beach. Perfect for the beach! Healthy. (Italian Soba.) Limited availability. 600 yen (US$4.25).”
Three times was “Perfect for the beach!” written, in three different sizes in three different colors–so apparently they really wanted to drive the point home. And if the giant Italian flag as the background wasn’t enough to tell you this soba is Italian-inspired, then the red, green, and white letters and tiny Italian flags carried by little figures in green and red should tip you off.
In any case, Mr. Sato didn’t hesitate to order the soba version, though he was quite unsure of what to expect. It came on a tray lined with a cloth decorated with tomatoes! How cute.
It looked a lot more Italian than Mr. Sato expected, with a spoonful of very rich-looking tomato sauce plopped right on top.
They’d even added a little bit of what Mr. Sato thought was Genovese sauce, which made this, in Mr. Sato’s eyes, a pretty serious attempt at Italian food. Mr. Sato had imagined it would be more like a pasta dish with copious amounts of sauce and cheese, but it definitely had a much more simplistic Italian feel to it. But would this tomato sauce actually taste good with soba?
Underneath the noodles was a broth that looked very similar to the same type of tsuyu broth you’d get with ordinary Japanese-style soba dishes. That made this dish even more puzzling. It was neither a Japanese-style Italian dish nor an Italian-style Japanese dish, but it somehow managed to combine the two into something completely new.
Mr. Sato gave it a good mix and took a bite. “Oh, it’s good! Simple, but good…No, it’s actually really good!”
Just as the dish seemed unable to make up its mind about what it wanted to be, neither could Mr. Sato decide how delicious it was. The tomatoes and the soba weren’t actually weird together, and Mr. Sato quickly became accustomed to the combination of tsuyu broth with tomatoes. Gradually, it turned from a strange dish into a really tasty one.
He’d heard before that Italian food and Japanese food actually have an affinity with one another, and that you can switch ingredients here or there to make any dish into a tasty fusion dish, but he had never expected it to taste so good. It was like the pasta ramen our other reporter discovered in Croatia. Either way, the acidity of the tomatoes added a nice freshness to the dish, which would be really nice to cool down with in the heat of summer.
Ah…so that’s why they’d suggested it was “Perfect for the beach!”
If you find yourself in Hachinohe, definitely check out Hama no Supermarket Gyoko Store. And don’t forget to check out another one of Aomori’s claims to fame: cracker crusts!
Hama no Super Gyoko Store / 浜のスーパー 漁港ストア
Aomori-ken Hachinohe-shi Shinminato 3-4-20
Hours: Weekdays: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Weekends/Holidays: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Morning market open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Open every day