Because shadow warriors need to eat noodles too. 

There are many soba restaurants in Japan where you can eat buckwheat noodles, but one particular restaurant in Gunma Prefecture is particularly special for a number of reasons.

Firstly there’s the name, Ninja Soba Goemon, which conjures up images of Ishikawa Goemon (1558-1594), the Japanese bandit who stole from the rich to give to the poor. This folk hero was said to have been born in Iga Province, home of the legendary ninja, where he learned the art of ninjutsu, and after various adventures and exploits, he met his demise when he and his son were boiled alive in an iron tub after a failed assassination attempt on a warlord.   

▼ Round iron tubs are now called goemonburo (“Goemon bath”) in Japanese, and this restaurant has one of them outside the front door.

Eating at Ninja Soba Goemon is like eating in a ninja hideout, as the building has loads of traditional features that lure you in. Once you’re inside, you’re met with another cauldron to remind you of the legendary bandit’s demise, and this one is even more realistic, with steam rising from it as it boils away to make noodles.

▼ Boiling noodles, not ninja.

While the restaurant’s name and setting are unique in the way they transport you to another world, the meals themselves are special too.

▼ The main options here are soba and udon, but the real drawcard is the all-you-can-eat condiment buffet.

For a lot of diners, spices and condiments are integral to enhancing the flavour of noodle dishes, and while most restaurants might give you a few condiments on the side or at your table, Ninja Soba Goemon lets you pick and choose from a wide variety of options, so you can customise your dishes in different ways during every visit.

Diners can choose to sit at either the counter or at a table in the tatami room section, but the all-you-can-eat condiments are only available to those at the counter.

We ordered a plain cold soba with the condiment buffet included for 850 yen (US$5.65). The choice for toppings was extensive, covering fried eggs, wakame seaweed, grated radish, and green onions.

Pouring a little of the noodle broth into our side bowl, we added a tongful of each of the different toppings inside, placing them carefully around the bowl for a delicious display.

With our customised dipping broth now ready, it was time to pick up a mound of noodles and, like true connoisseurs, hold back on dipping them, instead trying them first on their own to assess their taste.

Thin, flat, smooth and chewy, these were excellent noodles, and we couldn’t wait to find out how they would taste with our dipping broth, which contained all the condiments.

This mixture was far more flavourful than our first mouthful, with the fresh greens and plump wakame creating a refreshing spring-like aroma. With this sauce, every slurp of the noodles became more and more delicious.

The grated daikon radish added a kick of spiciness, imparting a light aftertaste that was highly addictive. Not only did it taste great, but the fact that you can  go back for more condiments at any time allows you to eat and slurp to your heart’s content without ever having to worry about running out.

After finishing the noodles, staff provide you with some hot soba water to add to the remaining sauce so you can enjoy it as a flavourful soup. With so many ingredients in the sauce, this turned out to be one of the best things we’ve tasted in a long time and as the condiments vary depending on the day, we can’t wait to go back for more on our next visit.

Like a shadow warrior’s hideout, Ninja Soba Goemon is a hidden gem with exciting discoveries inside, so next time you’re travelling through Gunma, perhaps to visit the birthplace of the Japanese daruma, be sure to add this restaurant to your itinerary!

Restaurant information
Ninja Soba Goemon / 忍者そば 五ヱ門
Address: Gunma-ken, Maebashi-shi, Mitsumatacho 1-44-18
Open: 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (counter seats); 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., 5:30-8:30 p.m. (tatami room seating)
Closed: Tuesdays, first and second Monday of every month

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