Nagano City restaurant’s list has a heartwarming twist.

Japanese restaurants take a lot of pride in the food they serve, and there’s often an assumption that the chef’s understanding of the fare is on a whole different level than the diners’. So when diners enter Kandata, a soba noodle shop in Nagano, the part of Japan most famous for soba (buckwheat noodles), they’re probably not so shocked to see signs posted inside the restaurant with instructions on how you should eat the noodles.

▼ The entrance to Kandata

What is a shock, though, is just how many instructions there are.

▼ That picture on the right isn’t the menu – it’s Kandata’s instructions for eating soba noodles.

Kandata’s owner, Kazumi Nakamura, made this list over a decade ago. In total, there are nine different protocols listed for how to eat seiro soba, in which the noodles are served on a tray and dipped into a cup of broth before taking each bite. Nine steps might sound like an awful lot, but it’s absolutely important to read all the way to the end of these instructions, so let’s take a look at them, one by one.

1. Eat seiro soba when you’re already feeling hungry

That makes sense. Pretty much everything tastes better when you’re hungry, and worse when you’re trying to cram it into an already full stomach.

2. Start eating as soon as the food arrives your table

This is a pretty common school of thought regarding noodles that are served in broth, since letting them sit will cause them to get soft and soggy, but apparently seiro soba starts to lose its true deliciousness quickly too.

3. Add yakumi seasonings little by little

Yakumi refers to condiments such as wasabi and negi (green onion) that diners add, to taste, to their dipping broth. The broth cup is usually large enough to fit as much yakumi as you like in all at once, but the sign says that little by little is what you should do.

4. Eat eight noodles at a time

Just like with Western-style pasta, nobody eats Japanese noodles one strand at a time, but most people don’t really worry about the exact number they’re eating with each bite.

▼ So eight is the magic number, huh? Better work on those chopstick skills for consistent precision.

5. Dip the noodles about half-way into the broth

Here again, most diners don’t really stop to consider how deeply the noodles should get dipped. If anything, most people’s first instinct is to dunk them all the way in.

6. Slurp the noodles audibly

This one, though, is pretty common knowledge. In Japan, slurping your noodles is not only allowed, but generally encouraged. It’s said to show that you’re enjoying the meal, and some gourmands even hold that slurping allows more air to pass into your nasal passages, enhancing the aroma and, in turn, the flavor of the noodles.

7. Chew twice with your back teeth before swallowing

And now we’re back to specific numeric parameters, this time about something as fundamental as how much chewing you should do.

8. Once you’ve finished the noodles, drink the soba-yu

Soba-yu, “yu” here meaning “hot water,” is the water that’s left over in the pot after the noodles have been cooked. While the noodles are boiling, traces of the buckwheat mix with the water, so rather than dump it out, some restaurants offer you your soba-yu as a sort of after-noodle chaser, which some diners mix with their leftover dipping broth.

Honestly, at this point in the list a lot of people have probably forgotten what some of the earlier directions were. Not to fear, though, because as it turns out, step 9 is the one that matters most, and, actually, is the only one that really matters at all.

9. Don’t worry about any of the previous directions, and just eat the soba however you’d like

▼ Kandata’s list has become semi-famous among foodies for its twist ending, and gets a new wave of attention every couple of years.

But while Step 9 produces plenty of smiles and laughs from those who read the list all the way to the end, Steps 1 through 8 are more than just an extended setup for an eventual punchline. According to Nakamura, a lot of soba fans genuinely do enjoy getting into nitty-gritty debates about the best way to eat a bowl of noodles. As a soba restaurant owner, far be it for him to dissuade such passionate discourse, and so he put together the list to acknowledge that aspect of soba fandom. At the same time, he wanted to conclude his recommendations by making it clear that they’re really just suggestions, not something he has any intent of forcing people to follow or getting offended over if they’d rather eat them a different way, so he closes out the list with Step 9 to explicitly say that, ultimately, you should eat your seiro soba however you want to.

It’s a nice reminder that while Japan has a rich food culture, that doesn’t mean that every meal is considered a solemn compact between diner and chef, with a strict roadmap of rigid rules that must be followed, lest you fall into one of a vast array of social pitfalls that will bring sadness and shame upon the restaurant. Even in Japan, sometimes a meal is just a simple, comforting moment, and at Kandata, your soba doesn’t come with a side of stress.

Restaurant information
Kandata / かんだた
Address: Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Tsurugagondo-cho 2320
Open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays and the first and third Tuesday of every month
Website, Twitter

Source: Hachima Kiko, E-Aidem
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s always down for some unpretentious soba.