Hakone is a famous hot spring resort in Japan. It has many hot spring inns (ryokan) as well as amazing spots to gaze at Mount Fuji. Easy to access from Tokyo, you can take a direct train from Shinjuku Station, get off at Hakone-Yumoto Station and then take a bus or local train to go further into nature. This makes the area around Hakone-Yumoto Station extremely lively with souvenir shops and gourmet restaurants.
In this feature, we talk about a long-established soba restaurant in Hakone-Yumoto, which also had the pleasure of serving the current Emperor of Japan when he was the Prince.
This traditional soba restaurant called Hatsuhana (初花、はつ花) was established in 1934. The Honten (main branch) is located close to the station, and its popularity means that if you go at lunch or dinner time, you will have to wait for a while. The best thing you can do is visit its branch called the Shinkan (Annex), a few hundred meters from the main branch.
The annex is located on a small road along the Haya river and is easy to find as there are signs to guide you.
If you’ve visited the Japanese countryside, you will be familiar with Japanese wooden architecture. This restaurant is no different. Give your name to the staff and wait for your turn.
You can admire the details that make even the waiting area unique.
There is a stone pillar on the right side of the entrance that states the Crown Prince Naruhito, now the emperor of Japan, had come to eat here.
The interiors are simple and instantly transport you to the world of ancient Japan.
Paper lanterns and bamboo accents exude a warmth that helps you relax.
The whole structure is mainly made of wood. As you wait, you can look at the gorgeous wooden interiors.
There is also a retro phone on display!
Even though its supposed to be a soba restaurant, there is a wide variety of options including hot and cold noodles. The price ranges from 500 – 1800 yen, quite reasonable considering its long history.
The classic seiro-soba is served on a bamboo tray with a bowl of grated yam and a raw egg. If you aren’t a fan of eating raw eggs, avoid this dish.
What makes the soba here special is the distinctive combination of buckwheat flour, locally-produced eggs, and, surprisingly, a sticky yam called Jinenjo. The Jinenjo variety of yam is full of vitamins and minerals, and is said to be good for your health. This yam is a lot more sticker than other varieties and its characteristic flavor matches very well with buckwheat.
This bowl of grated yam, which is highly nutritional, is a crucial component of this dish.
You need to stir the raw egg well with the grated yam to create a smooth puree. Dip the soba into this sticky mixture for an unbelievably unique flavor.
For those not keen on trying the slimy, sticky yam, try the tempura set. The soba sprinkled with dried seaweed are served cold with vegetable and seafood tempura.
This small ceramic pourer contains the tempura dipping sauce called tentsuya. Usually, tempura is dipped in tentsuyu but the tempura here is super crunchy and delicious even on its own.
If you prefer warm food, then choose the hot soba. There are no side dishes with this one and you can taste the original deliciousness of the noodles.
Feel free to add some shichimi or ichimi (chili powders) to add some spice.
Unlike ramen, soba isn’t as popular due to its subtle flavor. However, once you learn and eat more of it, you will understand the immense effort and skill required to perfect it. If you get a chance to visit Japan, make sure you try to find an authentic spot like Hatsuhana to enjoy soba.
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