This Asakusa restaurant has two of Japan’s greatest foods, paired in a way nobody ever did before, and the result is amazing.

In Japanese cuisine there’s a special season for just about every dish, and right now is the season for soba. The buckwheat used in soba noodles is harvested in the fall, and the early batches of buckwheat flour, called shin soba, are the most flavorful and delicious.

So with the air crisp and the leaves starting to change color, we found ourselves searching for a soba restaurant in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood, when we came across the unusually named Maguro Soba.

If you’re a sushi fan, you probably recognize maguro as the Japanese word for “tuna.” A lot of soba restaurants in Japan have combo sets of noodles and rice bowl, and we thought Maguro Soba might top their rice with tuna sashimi, a tasty, but not all that uncommon, soba/rice bowl pairing.

But the truth was something entirely different. Shortly after we ordered our maguro soba set (for 1,300 yen [US$11.50]), the waiter brought our food to the table, and there was no rice to be seen.

Instead, there was a plate of chilled soba noodles, a container of tsuyu (dipping sauce), and a plate with minced tuna, like that found in negitoro sushi, along with an edible oba shiso leaf and sliced green onion.

We started off by pouring some of the tsuyu into the empty dish, dipping a mouthful of noodles into it, and taking a bite. The noodles were delicious, with an enticing slightly earthy aroma from their 100-percent buckwheat composition (some soba restaurants use a mixture of buckwheat and regular wheat flour).

But there was something unique about the tsuyu. Tsuyu is usually made with bonito stock, and while Maguro Soba’s tsuyu has a seafood note to its flavor, it was different from anything we’d had before, with an extra bit of richness to it. Unable to figure it out for ourselves, we asked the owner, Utada, to tell us what the special ingredient was, and he was happy to let us know.

“It’s maguro,” he said. Yes, it turns out that the restaurant gets its name, Maguro Soba, from the fact that it’s the only soba restaurant in Japan that makes its dipping sauce from tuna stock instead of bonito.

Because of that, there’s even a recommended way to eat the noodles. After having a few bits using the tsuyu by itself, you’re supposed to mix the minced tuna, shiso, and green onions in with the dipping sauce That gives you two maguro elements to simultaneously enjoy the flavor of, and the delicious taste was like nothing we’d ever had before.

Between bites, we asked Utada how he came up with the idea for this one-of-a-kind noodle dish. “I used to be a maguro wholesaler,” he told us, saying he had over 150 supermarkets on his client list. “But the job got to be too much of a strain on my body. About that time, the chef at a soba restaurant I knew said he wanted to open a new restaurant, and we decided to go into business together. So I handle the tuna, and he handles the noodles.”

▼ Maguro Soba’s noodle chef

But even with two fields of expertise covered, it wasn’t easy to create the restaurant’s signature dish. “It took us about a year of trial and error to finally arrive at this flavor,” Utada says, and while that’s a long time we’re glad they kept at it, because the results are incredible.

Maguro Soba uses Oma maguro, caught in Aomori Prefecture and widely considered to be the most delicious in Japan. Because of that, you’ll want to eat every last bit, and so the way to finish off your meal is by pouring the soba yu (the hot water the noodles are cooked in, picking up the flavor of the buckwheat in the process) into the bowl with the maguro at the very end, bringing things to a warming, satisfying close.

We stopped by in the afternoon, but the restaurant is open for dinner as well, and in addition to noodles offers a variety of alcoholic drinks and side dishes, like gyoza pot stickers wrapped in buckwheat skin.

And even though soba is at its most delicious in the fall, it tastes great in any season, and we’ll be happy to go back to Maguro Soba at any time of year.

Restaurant information
Maguro Soba / まぐろそば
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-31-3
Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays

Photos ©SoraNews24
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