Aso: Soba Houshozanmai

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It’s been heating up quite quickly and the warm weather makes my mind drift to cooler days – December when Andrea came to visit and we did a mad tour of Kyushu! I’m sorry I couldn’t be a better host, being just as clueless about the area as her and my Japanese skills still being nearly non-existent. This was such a memorable meal though! It was pouring and we desperately wanted some soba (strange cravings). Driving past the multiple soba shops along the mountainous Aso roads that were all inexplicably closed made it even sadder…though it would probably be the 5th meal of the day or something. But that’s how cravings roll.

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Which is why we were so happy chancing upon this soba restaurant, perched at the edge of a plateau overlooking a farming valley. It was quite beautiful with the mist from the rain and all – while the interior was warm and welcoming and lovely. Got the signature soba set of soba presented three ways – salad, plum and zaru, with plum wine, tofu, okura and a tofu pudding. We really wanted the buckwheat softcream too but it was sold out for the day. The soba noodles were perfectly springy, with a lovely texture that somehow reflected the process of the noodles being handmade. My favourite was the plum soba – cold soba noodles tossed in a plum vinaigrette and freshly grated wasabi mixed in to your liking. The wasabi kick goes wonderfully with the tang of the vinaigrette but never actually overpowers it…unless you put the entire blob into your mouth at one go, of course.

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The soba pudding cake that came with the set! A layer of lightly sweetened buckwheat pudding atop a spongy buckwheat base. I’m partial to pudding-like cakes with tart bases but this was good all the same. In the tradition of a soba meal, you also drink the water in which the noodles were boiled at the end. We actually asked for them not to include the rice with the soba set because we weren’t all that hungry but when Amos and I came back here a few months later the rice was amazing!! Multi-grain, fluffy rice with carrots and turnip steamed in a dashi stock. I usually don’t favour two carbohydrate mains in a single meal but this was just so good.

A pity that this place definitely needs a car to be accessed. But the wider area, Aso Oguni-machi, is very famous for its soba and is definitely worth a stop if you’re on a Kyushu self-drive. I’m not sure about other restaurants, but this particular one also owned the farm in which the buckwheat for the soba is grown, and had the most beautiful chopsticks. Plus points for internalised sourcing and gorgeous cutlery – wish I brought a pair home.

Soba Houshozanmai 宝処三昧
http://www.housyozanmai.com/
429-2 Kitami, Aso Oguni-machi, Kumamoto
熊本県阿蘇郡小国町北里429-2

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