Our resident noodle expert tries out the robo soba.

Sometimes you get hungry when you’re on your way from Point A to Point B, and so noodle stands are a common sight inside Japanese train stations. What’s not so common, though, are noodle stands with robots working inside them.

So when our soba noodle-loving reporter Seiji Nakazawa heard about just such a place, he hopped on Tokyo’s Chuo Line to check it out for himself, getting off at Higashi Koganei Station with his interest piqued and his stomach rumbling.

The restaurant, which just opened on March 16, is a branch of the Soba Ichi chain, which has multiple in-station restaurants on the Tokyo rail network. This branch, though, is the only one with a robo chef.

Japanese companies tend to put a lot of emphasis on employee appearance, but in this case Soba Ichi is more concerned with the quality of the robo chef’s work than its physical attractiveness. So rather than an inefficient humanoid design, the robot, which was developed by Tokyo-based kitchen robot design company Connected Robotics, is a beefy multi-joint arm mounted to the wall that’s capable of simultaneously holding three tebo, the single-serving-size colanders used by Japanese chefs for cooking, shocking, and rinsing noodles.

With no traditional hands, the robot can’t accept payments or make change, so Seiji ordered and prepaid for his meal using a vending machine-like terminal (a setup that’s actually pretty common even in noodle joints with human chefs). A basic bowl of hot soba is priced at just 340 yen (US$3.30), and as Seiji completed the transaction, the robo chef swung into action.

After dropping the tebo into boiling water and cooking the noodles, the robot next plunked the colander into a waiting pool of cold water to tighten up the texture.

Then it was time to drain off the water…

…before getting help from a human assistant who combined the noodles and broth in a bowl for Seiji to eat from.

▼ The whole process

We should mention that Seiji is a causal soba connoisseur, having eaten at and prepared reports on over 200 soba stands in his food journalist career. Visually, Soba Ichi’s robo soba passed the test, looking entirely appetizing and absolutely appropriate for its price point.

Just like with pudding, though, the proof of soba is in the eating…

…and once again, the robot-readied soba was everything Seiji could hope for in noodle nourishment. The flavor, texture, and aroma were all spot-on, with no metal nuts or bolts, hidden “Death to all carbon lifeforms” messages spelled out by the noodles, or anything else that would tip you off that it wasn’t cooked by a human.

However, it looks like the robot chef is merely apprenticing at Soba Ichi, and not yet a permanent employee. It’ll only be working at the branch for a limited time, serving up its taste of the future until April 15.

Restaurant information
Soba Ichi (Nonowa Higashi Koganei branch) / そばいち(nonowa東小金井店)
Address: Tokyo-to, Koganei-shi, Kajinocho 5-1-1
Open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. (weekdays), 7 a.m.-9 p.m. (weekends, holidays)

Photos ©SoraNews24
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