An obscure noodle dish a lot of Japanese people don’t even know about.

The other day, our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun was eating noodles at a nearby soba restaurant when an elderly man walked in, took a seat next to him, and ordered “okame soba“.

P.K. eats noodles at this particular restaurant about once a week, but he never knew there was something called okame soba on the menu. Heck, he’d never even heard of it before, and with the word “okame” usually used in reference to a traditional mask of a happy woman with plump cheeks, he couldn’t imagine what type of ingredients it might contain.

▼ Okame, as seen on a bento lunch sold at Kyoto Station.

So when the man next to him received his bowl of noodles, P.K. looked over to see what the mysterious okame soba looked like. However, the only thing that was clear him was it was some sort of warm soba. So on his next visit, he made sure to order a bowl for himself to find out more about it.

The okame soba was priced at 800 yen (US$5.88), slightly higher than the 700-yen “Tanuki Soba” (“Raccoon Dog Soba“) and “Kitsune Soba” (“Fox Soba“), two popular choices at any soba restaurant.

The higher price was probably due to the fact that the okame soba contained seven different ingredients: shiitake mushroom, wheat gluten, kamaboko (steamed seasoned fish paste), bamboo shoot, naruto (kamaboko with a spiral on it), tamago-yaki (rolled omelette), and spinach.

It was a fantastic bowl of noodles — hearty, flavourful and seemingly more healthy than P.K.’s usual order, which contains very little vegetables by comparison. It was so good that P.K. couldn’t help but wonder why he’d never heard of okame soba before, so when he returned to the office he decided to talk to our resident noodle expert, Go Hatori, who used to work part-time at a soba restaurant.

Unlike a lot of noodle lovers, who tend to order their favourites and therefore know little about unusual varieties like okame soba, Go immediately knew what P.K. had eaten, saying:

“Okame soba is a soba dish that resembles the okame face — a bamboo shoot is the nose and the two kamaboko are the eyes. I didn’t know about it either until I started working part-time at a soba restaurant.

Anyway, it takes quite a lot of time and effort to make, but in fact, we used to get many orders for it. I’ve never eaten okame soba, though, as it’s usually more expensive. Still, it’s good value for money.”

▼ Hmmm…the face in this bowl must’ve been created by an abstract artist like Picasso.

So next time you’re at a soba restaurant, why not try ordering a bowl of okame soba? It’s a delicious option that’s not easy to find overseas so it’s a great way to get a taste of Japan if you’re in the country and wanting to eat like a local.

Just make sure you say “okame soba onegai shimasu” (“okame soba please”) when ordering, so the staff don’t get riled up like they did at this Japanese convenience store.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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