It started on Saturday.
Back up, it actually started on Friday when the idea was first planted in my head. It came out in two staccato syllables escaping from my kocho sensei's mouth: "So-ba?" The question mark is not an accident. His voice lilted upwards when he said the word. He was asking if I'd ever tried zaru soba, and even though I had heard of soba both at home and in Japan, I had yet to venture down that road. "It's so healthy! It has antioxidants! It's good for your digestion!" come the cries of soba fans, but I am stubborn and I tend to only want to try things because I want to, not because someone tells me to. Plus, it feels wrong to try to abandon my solid relationship with gohan, which has served me well all these years. "But there's no nutritional value in rice!" some may say. Indeed, it is the rice that is making my middle a bit more squishy than I would like. But it is familiar, and I didn't think I needed any more starch in my diet. (Fact: soba is made from buckwheat, which is infinitely better for you than any other pasta product. I think that is mostly true.)
Anyway, the question of soba, using limited English, intrigued me. Surely if kocho sensei is trying to convince me to eat it rather than easily give up, shake his head, and walk away (I often feel he gets exasperated with himself and would rather not talk to me at all), it must be worth it. So I unwittingly filed it in my head under "stuff to consider doing while in Japan, but you don't necessarily have to do it in order to experience the best the country has to offer." I should have actually filed it under "stuff that will change your life."
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. Cherrelle and I were lazing around with nothing much on the agenda. All of a sudden it struck me how much I wanted sushi. I needed some sushi in my tummy like a pirate needs a parrot on his shoulder. That's pretty serious!
We wandered through Campus Square, convinced there had to be a sit-down sushi place somewhere. We looked at the dislpay windows that proudly showcased the restaurant's array of dusty plastic food. There was something that somewhat resembled one sushi dish, so we went inside. To our surprise (and, at the time, my chagrin), there was only that one sushi dish offered and the rest were all noodle dishes. And, of course, we still can't read kanji, so we had to decide what looked best from the pictures. Cherrelle ordered soup and the lone sushi offering, and I decided to go ahead and try some cold soba with octopus on top.
Now, anyone who has seen soba knows it doesn't look that appetizing.There is no fancy sauce on top, and the noodles themselves are kind of a greyish color. But, anyone who has looked at soba and dismissed it based on its appearance has made a huge mistake! My soba was delivered to me all in a bowl topped with some thick octopus (which I have grown to absolutely love) and sprinkled with nori and scallions. A small jar of cold soba tsuya came with it, which I was to pour over the noodles. There was also a smudge of wasabi on the lip of the bowl. I am sad to say I didn't bother taking a picture for my flog because I wasn't expecting much, and by the time I started eating it, I was so engrossed that the thought of flogging didn't even cross my mind.
I poured the tsuya over the top, mixed around all the toppings, and decided to be brave and add the spicy wasabi to everything too. When I took my first slurp, I'm pretty sure I went "Whoa!" It was refreshing, it was delicious, and it beat the pants off any other noodle dish I've had in Japan so far.
All cravings for sushi were quickly dissolved. I slurped the soba as though I were a prisoner on Death Row. The octopus was also a delicious compliment to everything else. It was one of those eating experiences where you start approaching your last few bites, and you actually feel sad. But, once it was over, I realized this was the beginning of something beautiful.
I started to wonder how wrong it would be to try to get some soba for dinner in lieu of going to the dinner party I was invited to that night. Surely I can have just a small bowl, and then make it to the party and eat some cake and appear to have a delicate appetite? I decided against this, but the whole time I was on my way to the dinner party, I started thinking about where else I could get soba from, and how soon could I go there. That, night, after the dinner party, I went to the conbini to grab myself a late night snack. But in reality, I was really scoping the deli aisle to see if they had any soba I can buy and shamefully eat in a dark corner somewhere. I pictured myself in my Gollum stance with my arm protecting my soba bowl, and if anyone would approach, I would turn my back to them and hiss, "My preciousssss." (Note: I have never seen Lord of the Rings, so what I am picturing in my head is probably inaccurate.) Unfortunately, the conbini was pretty empty that night, and I had to settle for a bowl of dehydrated ramen, which I ended up not eating that night because I was too disappointed about not finding soba.
Now I will take my soba wherever and however I can get it. Quick and cheap (from the convenience store). Hot and slow (at the soba restaurant at Campus Square). Fat soba, thin soba, I'll take it. I am an equal opportunity soba consumer. It doesn't matter where I have it; it always leaves me feeling satisfied, if not a little bit dirty. (As I type this I notice a tsuya stain on my white shirt and bits of nori scattered on my desk.) It has become my secret shame to think about my next bowl of soba. I have also become paranoid. The old lady on the train is staring at me. Is it because I'm gaijin, or because she knows I am trying to figure out an excuse to stay in Sannomiya till dinnertime so I can score some soba? Can they smell the scallions on my breath? Will my skin start to emit a buckwheat odor? What does buckwheat even smell like?
So if you happen to see me dining by myself in an isolated soba shop two towns over, pretend you don't know me. And please ignore the tsuya stain on my shirt.
PS- I expect my mom to be making a comment on the healthful benefits of soba in